This book is about World War I (WWI). WWI was fought from 1914 to 1918. On one side was Germany and Austria and the other was pretty much everyone else, mainly Great Britain, France and America towards the end. Germany lost. This book was written by a German guy who fought in the war. He wrote the book about his experiences and feelings and also those of his friends. World War I was not fought with helicopters and missiles like Desert Storm. World War I was all about trench warfare. Basically, each side dug these big ditches and bunkers and pushed back and forth shooting each other and bombing each other with big artillery guns. These trenches were the fronts. The Western Front was in France and that is where this book takes place.
The 19-year-old narrator of the story. He thinks a lot about the war and how it has affected him and his fellow soldiers.
Kantorek: A schoolteacher who pushed Paul and all his school buddies into signing up for the war.
Corporal Himmelstoss: The guy who was in charge of training Paul and his buddies. He is a real jerk and no one likes him.
Stanislaus Katczinsky (Kat): He is a 40-year-old cool soldier. He knows a little about everything. He becomes the leader of Paul's group who looks out for everyone.
Franz Kemmerich: One of Paul’s classmates who dies after a leg amputation in the beginning of the book.
Muller: Another classmate of Paul. He dreams about school while fighting. Class is better than getting killed, which is what eventually happens to Muller.
Leer: Another of Paul's classmates. He likes Math and gets killed the end.
Tjaden: Another soldier who is Paul's age, but not one of his classmates. Tjaden was picked on by Himmelstoss in basic training.
Detering: He is a simple farmer guy. He doesn’t believe too much in the war and finally one day gets fed up and tries to run away home and gets caught.
Albert Kropp: A classmate and good friend of Paul. Kropp is the smart guy who always has smart things to say about everything.
Haie Westhus: A 19 year-old guy who is part of Paul’s group. Not a classmate though. He likes the army and would reenlist after the war, but he gets killed.
Lieutenant Bertinck: Paul's company commander. He is a cool leader and takes a bullet for the guys.
Mittelstaedt: A classmate of Paul. He is stationed in Paul’s hometown and is the superior for that teacher Kantorek. He makes fun on him and treats him real bad.
Berger: The strongest guy in Paul's company. He gets a bit crazy in the end and tries to save a wounded dog and gets shot in the process.
Kaiser Wilhelm: He is the head of Germany. He shows up once briefly in the book to inspect the troops.
This book is about a group of guys in the war. Most of them are school friends who were pushed to sign up for the war by their teacher Kantorek. The older people of Germany were very much into German pride and thought they were going to win the war. The guy who narrates the whole book is Paul Baumer. Paul talks a lot throughout the whole book about the war and it’s effect on him and his friends. This is basically the author talking through Paul.
This is what the whole book is about. It is a bunch of war experiences and how they change the young people who are fighting. Also, Paul gets wounded in the book and goes home and stays with his family while he recovers. He finds can no longer relate to them because it is too hard to think and have emotions and at the same time deal with all the death around him in the war. He talks a lot about how he and his friends don’t think about deep things but just think about eating and silly things. His father and the older people of his town all want him to tell them war stories and Paul hates it because his experiences are gruesome. Paul ends up going back to fighting and basically, everyone in the book gets wounded and dies. The very end of the book is not narrated by Paul, but is just a short paragraph telling about how he dies on a real quiet day that the army called "All quiet on the western front".
CHAPTER BY CHAPTER
This is just a short paragraph where the author says this book is not "…an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it".
He says it is a story of a generation of men who might have escaped the shells but whose lives were destroyed by the war.
The book starts out five miles behind the front.
Everybody is eating and has a double ration of food and cigarettes.
You find out that a bunch of people died in the company so there’s more food for the survivors.
At first, the cook doesn’t want to give the extra rations out and everyone is pressuring him.
Then the lieutenant tells the cook to give out all the rations.
Then they read mail and play cards.
One letter is from their schoolteacher Kantorek. He pressured them all to join up for the war.
Then Paul talks about how old people, like their schoolteacher, talk about having love for Germany and going to war, but is the young people who were dying.
Then they go see their friend Kemmerich who is in the hospital. His foot has been amputated and he is dying. He doesn’t know his foot has been cut off yet.
They try to talk them as if he will stay alive and be back to normal. Muller sees a pair of really sweet boots that Kemmerich has under his bed. He wants them because Kemmerich will never use them and someone will probably just steal them when he dies.
Muller asks Kemmerich if he can hold them until Kemmerich is out of the hospital (which he will never leave alive), but Kemmerich won’t give them up.
They leave the hospital and Kropp complains about their schoolteacher who calls them the "Iron Youth".
Muller talks about the boots.
Paul talks about life before he signed up for the war.
He says that he and his friends have been swept up by the war and don’t know what will happen to them.
Then he talks about how Muller is really a nice guy, although he tried to get his dying friends boots.
Paul talks about how he and his class all enlisted together and their basic training.
Then you find out after training, they (Paul, Kropp, Muller, and Kemmerich) had been assigned to a real ass named Corporal Himmelstoss. He was really anal about every little thing.
Then the book cuts back to the present to the hospital bed of Kemmerich who is on the brink of death.
Paul is there alone with Kemmerich. You find out that they grew up together.
Kemmerich now knows his leg has been chopped off and doesn’t think he will make it out alive.
Paul lies to him and says he thinks he will be fine after he eats and gets better.
Kemmerich tells him to take the boots for Muller.
Then Paul talks to him about what he could do when he gets better...like build an aquarium and play the piano. This makes Kemmerich cry.
Paul sits for an hour and watches him until he dies.
Paul goes back to his hut and gives Muller the boots.
Reinforcements arrive to fill for the people who had been killed. The guys look over the new recruits.
They act like they are old veterans even though they are only 2 years older than the new recruits.
Kat has leftovers of the "feast" from chapter one and gives some to a new recruit telling him next time he is offered some food, to make sure he brings some tobacco to give in return.
Then Paul talks about how Kat is the smartest soldier of them all.
He tells a story about how Kat went out one night in the middle of nowhere when they didn’t have any food and came back with fresh bread and meat.
Then the book returns to the hut where the guys are staying. They are talking and arguing over how war should be fought.
Then they talk about Himmelstoss, that ass who they all hate. He was a mailman before the war. They say that he became a prick because he was given a little authority. (We all know these kind of people…they are given a little bit of authority and they think like they know what’s best for you)
Then Tjaden comes in and says that Himmelstoss has been assigned to come to the front.
Then you find out that Tjaden has a special grudge against Himmelstoss.
Simply put, Tjaden wet his bed every night. Himmelstoss got another bedwetter and put them together on bunk beds so every night, one of them would get pissed on by the other. Nice guy huh?
Then Paul tells us about how they gave Himmelstoss a beating the night before they were transferred up to the front.
They surprised Himmelstoss on the way home from a bar and put a sheet over his head and knocked him to the ground. Then Tjaden pulled down Himmelstoss’s pants and whipped his ass…literally.
The guys are sent up to the front to lay down some barbed wire.
They go in a truck and Kat talks about how there will be a bombardment tonight.
They finish putting down the barbed wire and most go to sleep until the trucks are supposed to come pick them up.
Paul is woken up by artillery shells falling close to them. Kat says they are in for it. Kat pretty much knows it all.
Then the shells start falling among the soldiers as they try to crawl away.
A new recruit is afraid and crawls under Paul’s arm. He makes a mess in his pants.
After the guns stop, a loud wail can be heard. It’s a bunch of wounded horses.
Finally, someone shoots the horses to put them out of their misery.
They start to walk back to where the trucks should be but they get shelled again.
They take cover in a graveyard.
There is a lot of details here of the explosions. They put on gas masks.
The attack stops and the graveyard is a mess. Kat and Paul come across a new recruit, the one who messed his pants earlier, who has been hit bad and they try to help him.
Only a few people die from the bombardment and the rest go back the trucks.
The chapter starts out with the boys in their hut picking off lice and talking.
They find out Himmelstoss has been sent to the front because he was too tough on some new recruits.
Then they talk about what they would do if the war was over. The top choices are drinking and sexing women.
Westhus talks about how he would stay in the army because you get fed every day and because it’s peacetime, you don’t have to fight.
Then, Himmelstoss approaches them. He tries to make some chit chat, but no one stands up to talk to him.
Then, Tjaden calls him a dirty hound and Himmelstoss and Tjaden get into an argument.
Himmelstoss gets all mad and leaves to report Tjaden.
Kat is worried Tjaden will get into trouble.
Muller then starts asking Kropp again about what he would do after the war.
They make fun of their old teacher Kantorek.
They can’t imagine going back to school after being in the war and they don’t know what kind of job they could have.
Then Himmelstoss returns with a sergeant to get Tjaden. No one will tell him where Tjaden is.
Then Kropp yells at Himmelstoss
Then everyone is called into the head guys office, Lieutenant Bertink. They explain why Tjaden hates Himmelstoss…the bed wetting incident.
Tjaden and Kropp get sent to the company jail for a few days and Himmelstoss gets lectured about loosening up.
Then, Paul and Kat go steal a goose from headquarters and cook it.
The boys are on a truck on their way up to the front.
They see a bunch of new coffins that are empty on the way up. They realize the coffins could be for them.
The British seem to have more artillery and the guys are feeling low.
Paul talks about how he left a dugout one-day and when he came back it had been blown up.
He talks about how every soldier believes in Chance. Note: notice how chance is capitalized, as if it was a person or a god.
While the boys are in the dugout, rats are everywhere.
Paul talks about how the rats are huge and they are constantly having to kill them.
The guys are bombarded steadily and things are looking really bad. They’re running out of food and water.
Then a new recruit gets claustrophobic (the fear of being in a small room or tight space) and tries to leave the dugout. Paul and Kat have to hold him down.
Then two more recruits go crazy and one runs out of the dugout and gets blown apart.
Then the other side attacks. The soldiers are French.
There a lot of gory war details.
The Germans send the French soldiers back past their own trenches and steal some of their food and water. They are better fed than the Germans are. You can tell they are winning the war.
Then Paul is on guard duty and does all this talking to himself about the effect of war and thinks about how the future is so uncertain for him and his friends.
Then, there is a German guy who has been injured really bad and is somewhere on the battlefield. They can all hear him cry and talk about his family but no one can find him. Then he dies.
There’s more fighting. A lot of new recruits are fighting now, and Paul tells says they are always the quickest to die. He gives gruesome details here.
Paul runs into Himmelstoss in the trenches. Himmelstoss is pretending he is hurt but only has a scratch. Paul kicks him a few times and forces him out of the trench to attack the enemy.
Westhus gets hit bad in the back. He ends up dying. The attack ends and then second company is relieved. Only 32 guys are left alive.
The guys are farther back from the front than usual because they need over 100 reinforcements.
Himmelstoss wants to be buddy buddy now and Paul is willing because you find out that Himmelstoss carried Westhus off the battlefield when he was injured. Also, he is taking over for the cook and gives them all some extra food.
Paul talks about how they turn into animals when they are fighting on the front and don’t think about who got killed afterwards because it would be too hard to deal with.
So, when they aren’t fighting, they just eat, sleep, drink, and smoke to take their mind of it.
Then, Paul and Kropp are looking at a poster of a hot girl at an old army theater.
Tjaden and this other guy Leer come up and they all start making smutty comments.
Then, they are swimming naked in this canal and they start talking to these three French girls walking by. The girls live on the side of the canal that the guys aren’t allowed to go over to, so they set up a date that night.
Paul, Kropp, and Leer swim over that night with some food and smokes to meet the girls. They get some action.
Then Paul gets assigned 17 days of leave and then he is to report to training away from the front.
He has another night of drinking with the boys and goes over to get with that brunette he had the night before.
Paul gets on a train and heads to his hometown. He goes home and his sister is the first to see him and he cries.
Paul goes and sits with his mother and she is very ill. She has cancer. She asks him if it was bad fighting at the front. He lies to her and says it’s not that bad.
Then, Paul runs goes to the local headquarters to check in and he runs into this major. Major asshole is more like it. He yells at Paul for not saluting. Paul is so pissed. He has been up fighting on the front line watching people die and now he is getting hassled for not saluting. He has to do it or else he could get arrested so he does, but then he goes home and puts on civilian clothes.
Paul is sitting in a beer garden drinking thinking about how he can’t talk to anyone, especially his father, because no one understands how horrible things are at the front.
Then this older guy comes up and invites him to a table with old men. They go on about how brave Paul is to be fighting and give him cigars and beer. The one guy talks about how Germany is close to winning the war. Paul knows that they aren’t.
Then Paul goes and visits his buddy Mittelstaedt.
Mittelstaedt tells Paul how their old school teacher, Kantorek (the ass who made them all enlist) has been called to duty. Mittelstaedt is now his superior officer and makes his life miserable. Mittelstaedt says all the things Kantorek used to say as a schoolteacher. (Just imagine if you were in the army and your teacher was under your command.)
He gave Kantorek a bad uniform that doesn’t fit him so he looks like a fool.
Paul laughs at Kantorek because he is a pathetic soldier.
Then Paul goes to see Kemmerich’s mother. (the guy who died in the beginning of the book)
She cries and moans. Paul lies and tells her that her son was shot through the heart and died instantly.
Then Paul spends his last night at home. His mom tells him to be safe and beware French women (Our boy Paul had already got into that though)
Paul tells his mom he will be fine. When she leaves, Paul wishes he never came home on leave. When he was on the front, he had no emotions. Now, he is going to be worried about his family.
Paul is stationed at the camp where he trained under Himmelstoss.
It is really boring and he just does drills, reads newspapers, and plays a piano they have there.
There is a prison camp for Russians next door.
The Russian prisoners are starving and look like skeletons.
Paul notices they don’t look much different then the German peasants.
One of the prisoners plays the violin and plays for Paul when he is on guard duty.
On the last Sunday before Paul leaves, his sister and father come up to see him.
They sit and talk about his mother. She is in the hospital with cancer.
Paul’s mother has been sick her whole life and his father has spent all his money on her hospital bills.
Paul is given a bag of potato-cakes and some jam. He was going to give them to the Russian prisoners, but then he realizes his mother probably was in pain when she made them so he only gives away two.
Paul returns to the second company and his friends. He shares with them his potato-cakes and jam.
The Kaiser (the Emperor in charge of Germany back then) comes to inspect the troops.
Then the guys have an interesting conversation about the purpose of war. This is kind of an important section of the book.
This is their discussion: The Germans say they are right. The French say they are right. Who is really right? Most of the soldiers on both sides are simple people….farmers and store clerks…why do they fight each other?
They say that it is because Generals want to become famous and people profit from war.
Then they move back up to the front. There are a lot of naked bodies of blown up soldiers on the way. They have been blown out of their clothes and are often missing body parts.
Then Paul volunteers to go on a patrol to see how strong the enemy position is.
He gets scared out on the battlefield and can’t move for a while.
Then he hears the faint sound of the voices of his friends and realizes they are the most important part of his life. He is able to move again.
He forgets which direction his trench is and gets stuck out on the battlefield during an attack. He acts like he is dead.
Then, someone falls into the hole Paul is in, and Paul stabs him. He doesn’t die though. He is the enemy, but when Paul realizes he is not dead, he tries to save him. He ends up dying after many hours.
Paul feels really guilty and thinks about the man’s wife and about his life if he had not killed him.
Paul starts to get a bit crazy being stuck in the hole with the man he killed and he starts talking to him. (The guy is dead)
He gets his wallet out and gets the guy’s name and says that he will write his wife.
He promises that he will fight against the war. Paul knows that he won’t do anything of what he says but he still says it.
Finally, he sneaks back to his trench.
He tells his friends about killing the guy and they tell him not too feel bad. It’s war.
The guys are all together (except for Westhus who died when he got shot in the back).
They get a job of guarding an abandoned village, which still has some supplies in it.
There is food there like pigs and vegetables so the guys start fixing up a feast.
Some other soldiers come by for the feast and they play the piano and sing.
Observation balloons see the smoke from the fires that are cooking the food and shells start falling on the village.
The guys keep cooking and move to their dugout with their food.
They eat all day and drink and smoke.
They lead this kind of life for a few weeks. Then they are called back.
Then they are assigned to evacuate another village. While they are marching in, shells fall on them.
Both Paul and Kropp are injured. An ambulance picks them up.
Paul and Kropp are worried about getting their legs amputated. Doctors used to amputate a lot during the war because it was easier than treating the wound properly.
Paul and Kropp are OK though and they take the pieces of shell out without getting amputated.
The next day they are on a hospital train. There is a sweet young nun who looks after them.
Then, Kropp has to be let off the train because of a fever. Paul fakes a fever too by sticking the thermometer under his arm when the nun isn’t looking (note this trick in case you need to fake an illness).
Kropp and Paul are let off the train together and put into a Catholic hospital.
In the morning, they are woken up by the nuns praying.
Paul is angry because Kropp is groaning in pain and he wants the nuns to shut the door to their room. The nuns say no, so Paul throws a glass bottle at them. They shut the door.
Men come and go from the room. When someone is going to die, they put them in a special room called the Dying room (pretty original eh?)
Kropp gets worse and his leg is amputated. He stops talking a lot because he is depressed.
The hospital is pretty rough. People are dying. Some guy who is blind from injury tries to stab himself to death with a fork.
This one guy Peter who had been taken to the Dying room returns alive. He is all proud of surviving the Dying Room.
Paul talks about how most of the start of his manhood has been just killing and seeing death and destruction.
Then, this guy Lewandowski’s wife shows up with his kid. He hasn’t seen her in two years, so all the guys in the room guard the door and Lewandowski gets it on with his wife in his hospital bed.
Paul leaves the hospital and goes home for a little while. He leaves Kropp.
Then Paul is called back to the front.
Paul is back up with his buddies.
He talks about how everyone is very close like a group of men condemned to death.
He also talks about how they have to keep their thought simple to survive the horror of war.
Then Paul tells how Detering had seen a cherry tree one-day and that reminded him of his farm.
Detering then takes off without telling anyone and gets caught trying to get back to his farm.
The Army does not like people who take off like that and they court martial them and put them in jail. (Or in some cases in the past…people were shot for desertion)
Then Paul is in a crater on the front line fighting with his unit. They are in trouble because the English are surrounding them.
But, the German counter-attack comes and the guys make it out safely.
Then, some soldier tells them that a messenger dog has been injured.
Berger asks where and decides to go help it. Everyone tries to stop him but he is the biggest dude in the company so no luck. They just tell him he is crazy as he goes.
Berger gets wounded while he tries to help the dog and is carried off.
Paul then tells us Muller is dead. He got shot in the stomach.
Before he died, he gave Paul his boots (the one he got from the dead guy in the opening of the book) and his wallet.
Paul talks how the German side is falling back, running out of food, sick, and generally getting their asses kicked.
Then, the company commander Bertinck gets killed.
What happens is that they are in a crater and these two enemy guys are coming for them with a flame-thrower. It takes two guys to work it. One to hold the torch, the other to carry the gas.
No one can get a clear shot at the flamethrower dudes and it looks like they are gonna be toasted.
Then, Bertinck gets up and shoots the flame-thrower guys but ends up getting shot when he does and dies.
Leer also gets hit and ends up dying too.
Paul talks about how the summer of 1918 is the bloodiest ever. The Germans are really losing badly.
Then, Kat gets wounded in the shin. Paul carries him all the way to the Army hospital place and talks to him the whole way.
When they get there, the orderly tells Paul that Kat is dead. Paul doesn’t believe him but realizes that Kat had been hit in the back of the head on the way and died.
Paul gets 2 weeks of rest for swallowing some poison gas.
He is sitting in a beer garden and he talks all kinds of sad miserable stuff.
He talks about how after the war people won’t understand soldiers and the life they went through.
Paul feels alone and has no hope in the world.
*Note: there is a break in the text and Paul does not narrate the last paragraph.
It says that Paul died in October 1918 on a day that was very quiet and not much fighting.
The army described the day as: All quiet on the western front.
THINGS TO MAKE YOU LOOK SMART
One of the big issues of this book is: Is the book against the war?
In the very beginning, the author says it’s not an accusation, but all through the book he goes after old people for pushing the war. It can be argued that it really is an accusation.
You can tell he is bitter about the people who got them involved in the war…such as their schoolteacher and also the Kaiser.
The author spends a lot of time pushing the fact that the soldiers, although they lived like animals, were very human…no matter what side they were fighting on. He does with the description of the Russian prisoners…and also the French guy that Paul kills.
The author is very much on the side of the soldier.
If you want to look good in class, equate this book with other wars like Vietnam and WWW II. Even though it is written by a German…the people we seem to fight a lot with…it is universal for the life of a soldier.
Also, it is very hard for war veterans to talk about their experiences with anyone who didn’t fight in the war.