All Quiet on the Western Front Summary & Reading Response
All Quiet on the Western Front is a historical fiction novel written by German author Erich Maria Remarque in the late 1920s. It is narrated by Paul Baumer, a young man who joined the army voluntarily after listening a patriotic speech from his teacher, Kantorek. Paul shared his experiences and stories during the time he fought in the German army on the French front in World War I. Paul Baumer is a nineteen years old high school student. He and several of his friends from school were encouraged by their teacher, Kantorek to join the army.
The teacher told them that fighting in war is their duties, and they should feel honorable for protecting their country. So Paul and his classmates: Albert Kropp, Muller, and Leer went to the war. They were sent to the frontline after ten weeks of basic military training. All of them served under Second Company, where they met Tjaden, Haie Westhus, Detering, and Stanislaus Katczinsky. Albert Kropp is an intelligent thinker; Muller carries textbooks with him and studies hard; Leer is very interested in women.
Tjaden is a locksmith and biggest eater in the company; Haie Westhus is a peat-digger with tall and strong body; Detering is a peasant who only thinks his farm and his wife; Stanislaus katczinsky is the leader of their small group and Paul’s closest friend. In Chapter One, there were original one hundred and fifty men in Paul’s company, but only eighty of them returned from the front. After seeing soldiers getting wounded and killed, Paul and his friends started to doubt is war really glorious like their teacher described? “We were all at once terribly alone; and alone we must see it through” (Remarque 12).
Paul expresses how his generation feels cut off from the older generation. “From our life, we were eighteen and had begun to love life and the world; and we had to shoot it to pieces” (Remarque 88). They were innocent young teenagers with their hopes and devotion for their country. But the war just turned them into savage killers. Paul realizes that after every bloody fight, people in his company become lesser. “We see men without mouths, without jaws, without faces; the sun goes down, night comes, the shells whine, life is at an end” (Remarque 134).
He can no longer find pride and glory principal told him, but struggle for pain and death. “I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow” (Remarque 263). Imagine that you are eighteen years old, and your first job is to kill people, what would you become? The other major characters other than Paul Baumer are Stanislaus Katczinsky, Albert Kropp, Muller, Tjaden, Kantorek, and Corporal Himmelstoss. Kat, Albert, Muller, and Tjaden are Paul’s friends.
They are all in the Second Company. My favorite two characters are Kat and Albert. Kat is a forty years old and has a family at home. He always finds food, clothing, and blankets for his friends. He becomes Paul’s closest friend and ally in the course of the story. He believes in duty. And despite not personally embracing the ideals that drew him to this war, he fights his heart out. He died from shrapnel wound in the head. Albert is one of Paul’s classmates, an intelligent, speculative young man. Kropp is one of Paul’s closest friends during the war.
He is the first one to notice the rank injustices: how the nurses and attendants quickly respond to officers’ pain, but are slow to take care of enlisted men. One important symbol in the novel is Kemmerich’s boots. Kemmerich’s high boots are passed from soldier to soldier as each owner dies in sequence. Kemmerich took them from a dead airman, and as Kemmerich lies on his bed, Muller received the boots. Paul keeps them himself when Muller is shot to death. The boots represent the cheapness of human life in the war.
A good pair of boots is more valuable than a human life. The question of who will inherit them overshadows their owners’ deaths. The author of this book has the ability to bring his readers right there on the front line with the main character. The vivid description not just let readers physically experienced and witnessed, but actually feel all the complicated and intense emotions that came with those experiences. All Quiet on the Western Front is both a colorful description of warfare and a poignant look into the sufferings of the individuals by whom wars are fought.