All Quiet on the Western Front (German: Im Westen nichts Neues) is a novel written by Erich Maria Remarque, a German veteran of World War I. The book shows the war's horrors and also the deep detachment from German civilian life felt by many men returning from the front. The novel was first published in November and December 1928 in the German newspaper Vossische Zeitung and in book form in late January 1929. It sold 2.5 million copies in twenty-five languages in its first eighteen months in print. In 1930 the book was turned into an Oscar-winning movie of the same name, directed by Lewis Milestone.
Title and translation
The 1930 English translation by Arthur Wesley Wheen gives the title as All Quiet on the Western Front. The literal translation of "Im Westen nichts Neues" is "Nothing New in the West", with "West" being the war front; this was a routine dispatch used by the German Army.
Brian Murdoch's 1993 translation would render the phrase as "there was nothing new to report on the western front" within the narrative. Explaining his retention of the original book-title, he says:
Although it does not match the German exactly (there is a different kind of irony in the literal version...), Wheen's title has justly become part of the English language and is retained here with gratitude. The phrase "all quiet on the western front" later became popular slang for lack of action (in reference to the Phoney War in World War II's Western Front).
Cover of 1st English language edition
Paul Bäumer is the narrator, and the main character of the novel, whom Remarque uses to represent his own experience in World War I. Aged only 19, Paul, who is an amateur writer of several poems and a play, is persuaded by his schoolmaster, Kantorek, to enlist in the German Army for World War I. He is deployed to the western front, where he experiences the devastating physical and psychological effects of intense combat, including the horrific wounding or death of his friends. Paul reflects on the war as he witnesses the dehumanizing conditions of combat and the robbing of soldiers of their individuality and love of life.
"The life that has borne [Bäumer] through these years" falls at the end of the novel, in October 1918. At the time, the western front was sufficiently quiet that the army dispatches for the day read that there was nothing new to report from the western front, and the book's German title refers to this. In the novel's adaptations for films, this is presented as a physical death rather than a spiritual death: Bäumer was killed either while reaching for a butterfly (book) or drawing a bird (television movie), his body on the earth with a look of calm that showed "that he could not have suffered long."
Perhaps Paul's closest friend, Kropp was in his class at school and is described as the clearest thinker of the group. Kropp is wounded towards the end of the novel and undergoes an amputation. Both he and Bäumer end up spending time in a Roman Catholic hospital together, Bäumer suffering from shrapnel wounds to the leg and arm. Though Kropp initially plans to commit suicide if he requires an amputation, the book suggests he postponed suicide because of the strength of military camaraderie. Kropp and Bäumer part ways when Bäumer is recalled to his regiment after recovering.
Haie is described as being tall and strong, and a peat-digger by profession. Overall, his size and behavior make him seem older and more mature than Paul, yet he is the same age as Paul and his school-friends (roughly 19 at the start of the book). Haie also has a good sense of humor. During combat, he is injured in his back, fatally (see ch7) — the resulting wound is large enough for Paul to see Haie's breathing lung when Himmelstoss carries him to safety.
Müller is about 19 years of age, and one of Bäumer's classmates, when he also joins the German army as a volunteer to go to the war. Carrying his old school books with him to the battlefield, he constantly reminds himself of the importance of learning and education. Even while under enemy fire, he "mutters propositions in physics". He became interested in Kemmerich's boots and inherits them when Kemmerich dies early in the novel. He is killed later in the book after being shot point-blank in the stomach with a rifle. As he was dying "quite conscious and in terrible pain", he gave his pocket-book and the boots he inherited from Kemmerich to Bäumer.
Also known as Kat, he has the most positive influence on Paul and his comrades on the battlefield. Katczinsky was a cobbler in civilian life; he is older than Paul Bäumer and his comrades, and serves as their leadership figure. He also represents a literary model highlighting the differences between the younger and older soldiers. While the older men have already had a life of professional and personal experience before the war, Bäumer and the men of his age have had little life experience or time for personal growth. When Katczinsky is killed it is as though a great hero has died.
Kat is also well known for his ability to scavenge nearly any item needed, above all, food. At one point he secures four boxes of lobsters. Bäumer describes Kat as possessing a sixth sense. One night, Bäumer along with a group of other soldiers are holed up in a factory with neither rations nor comfortable bedding. Katczinsky leaves for a short while, returning with straw to put over the bare wires of the beds. Later, to feed the hungry men, Kat brings bread, a bag of horse meat, a lump of fat, a pinch of salt and a pan in which to cook the food.
Kat is injured by an air attack at the end of the story, being hit by shrapnel. Bäumer carries him back to camp on his back, only to discover upon their arrival that a stray splinter had hit Kat in the temple and killed him on the way. He is thus the last of Paul's close friends to die in battle. It is Kat's death that eventually makes Bäumer careless whether he survives the war or not, but that he can face the rest of his life without fear. "Let the months and the years come, they can take nothing from me, they can take nothing more."
One of Bäumer's non-schoolmate friends. Before the war Tjaden was a locksmith. A big eater with a grudge against the former postman-turned corporal Himmelstoss (thanks to his strict 'disciplinary actions'), though, manages to forgive him later in the book. Throughout the book, Paul frequently remarks on how much of an eater he is, yet somehow manages to stay as "thin as a rake". Tjaden survives the War and becomes a well-liked school teacher in the sequel, The Road Back.
Kantorek was the schoolmaster of Paul and his friends, including Kropp, Leer, and Müller. Behaving "in a way that cost [him] nothing," Kantorek is a strong supporter of the war and cajoles Bäumer and other students in his class to join the war effort. Among twenty enlistees was Joseph Behm, the first of the class to die in battle. In an example of tragic irony, Behm was the only one who did not want to sacrifice his life in the line of duty. Kentorek is essentially a hypocrite, urging the young men he teaches to fight in the name of patriotism, while not voluntarily enlisting himself. In a twist of fate, Kantorek is later called up as a soldier as well. He very reluctantly joins the ranks of his former students, only to be grilled and taunted by Mittelstädt, one of the students he had earlier persuaded to enlist.
Leer is a soldier in Bäumer's company. He is very popular with women; when he and his comrades meet three French girls, he is the first to seduce one of the them. Bäumer describes Leer's ability to attract girls by saying "Leer is an old hand at the game". In chapter 11, Leer is hit by a shell fragment, which also hits Bertink. The shrapnel tears open Leer's hip, causing him to bleed to death quickly. His death causes Paul to ask himself, "What use is it to him now that he was such a good mathematician in school?"
Lieutenant Bertink, often referred to as the company commander, is the leader of Bäumer's company. His men have a great respect for him, and Bertink has great fondness for his men. He permits them to eat the rations of the men that had been killed in action, standing up to the chef who would only allow them their allotted share. Bertink is genuinely despondent when he learns that few of his men had survived an engagement. When he and the other characters are trapped in a trench under heavy attack, Bertink spots a flamethrower team advancing on them, which will certainly kill them all. Although already shot in the chest and hit in the chin by the same shell fragment that killed Leer, Bertink manages to kill the flamethrower team, and right afterward he mutters "good", assured that his men will live, and slumps down dead.
Remarque's portrayal of Himmelstoss easily raises the ire of the reader. Before enlisting in the war he was a post-man. He is a power-hungry corporal with special contempt for Paul and his friends, taking sadistic pleasure in punishing the minor infractions of his trainees during their basic training in preparation for their deployment. He often teases Tjaden and Kindervater about their bed-wetting and make them sleep under one another. However, Bäumer and his comrades have a chance to get back at Himmelstoss, mercilessly whipping him on the night before they board trains to go to the front. Himmelstoss later joins them at the front, revealing himself as a coward who shirks his duties for fear to get hurt or killed, and pretends to be wounded because of a scratch on his face. Bäumer beats him and when a lieutenant comes along looking for men for a trench charge, Himmelstoss joins and leads the charge. He carries Haie Westhus' body to Bäumer after he is fatally wounded. Matured and repentant through his experiences Himmelstoss later asks for forgiveness from his previous charges. As he becomes the new staff cook, to prove his friendship he secures two pounds of sugar for Bäumer and half a pound of butter for Tjaden.
Detering was a young farmer who loved his wife and farm and constantly longed to return to them. He is especially fond of horses and is angered when seeing them used in combat. He says, "It is of the vilest baseness to use horses in the war," when the group hears several wounded horses writhe and scream for a long time before dying. He is driven to desert when he sees a cherry blossom, which reminds him of home too much and inspires him to leave. He is found by military police and court-martialled, and is never heard of again.
Hamacher is a patient at the Catholic hospital where Paul and Albert Kropp are temporarily stationed. He has an intimate knowledge of the workings of the hospital. He also has a "shooting license," certifying him as sporadically not responsible for his actions due to a head wound, though he is clearly quite sane and exploiting his license so he can stay in the hospital and away from the war as long as possible.
Kemmerich had enlisted in the army for WWI along with his best friend and classmate, Bäumer. Kemmerich is shot in the leg early in the story; his injured leg had to be amputated, and he dies shortly thereafter. In anticipation of Kemmerich's imminent death, Müller was eager to get his boots. While in hospital, the doctors took Kemmerich's watch from him, causing him great distress, prompting him to ask about his watch every time his friends came to visit him in the hospital.
A student in Paul's class. Behm was the only student that was not quickly influenced by Kantorek's patriotism to join the war. Eventually, due to pressure from friends and Kantorek, he joins the war. He is the first of Paul's friends to die, and he dies in a horrifying fashion: He is blinded in no man's land and cut down by enemy fire.
Duval is the first person whom Paul kills in hand-to-hand combat. As a civilian, Duval was a French printer, married and with a child. When Duval dives into a sodden shell hole occupied by Paul while retreating from a failed attack, Paul stabs Duval three times in the chest. As they sit, trapped together in a shell hole in No-Man's Land, Duval dies slowly and Paul experiences profound remorse, eventually swearing to devote his life to Duval's family. Kropp and Kat later comfort Paul by noting the joyful abandon with which snipers kill many times each day, and Paul resolves to repress the encounter with Duval with the other horrors he has endured.