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Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front is a novel that takes place during World War I. The main character and narrator, Paul Baumer, is a young German soldier who fights for Germany during World War I. The story begins with Paul telling us about his best friends in the army. Paul and his friends, whom he has known since school, enlisted in the German army after finishing school. While in school, Paul and his schoolmates had always been pressured and encouraged by their school teacher, Kantorek, to join the army and fight for the glory of Germany. Paul and his schoolmates are members of Second Company. He and his friends are all 19 years old, except for Katczinsky, who is 40 and has a family back home. Katczinsky, nicknamed Kat, is the leader-figure of the group comprised of Paul and his school-friends. At the beginning of the story, Second Company had fought constantly for about 2 weeks and was originally 150 men strong. Now only 80 men strong, Second Company's cook was hesitant about giving the 80 men food originally meant for 150 men. Katczinsky finally persuades the cook to give them the food. After that, Paul and his friends visit Franz Kemmerich, a school-friend who had his leg amputated due to a leg wound, at the hospital and realize that he doesn't have much longer to live. Müller, another school-friend, asks Kemmerich for his valuable boots, since "they are no use to him" anymore. Then, they give an orderly cigars as a bribe to give their dying friend, Kemmerich, pain relievers so that he doesn't suffer. Later, new recruits are sent to join Second Company to reinforce it and replace the casualties. The group later receives word that Corporal Himmelstoss, a training officer that tormented the group during their training, would join them to fight in the front lines. The group is tasked with setting up barbed wire along the front lines, and is pounded by indirect fire (artillery) while doing so. After suffering some losses due to the artillery shelling, the group returns to camp and talk about the future. They talk about what their plans are when they return home after the war. Some of the men said that they didn't know what they would do after the war ended, and most were doubtful that the war would end soon. Shortly after Himmelstoss arrives at camp, one of Paul's friends, Tjaden, encounters Himmelstoss and is very rude and disrespectful towards him. Himmelstoss later reports Tjaden to his superiors for his rude behavior. A superior then gives Tjaden a lenient punishment. At night, Kat and Paul catch and cook a goose which made an exceptional meal, something that is very hard to come by. Second Company is sent to defend the front, as the enemy is mounting an assault. The battle is chaotic and the company suffers major losses. At the end of the battle, only 32 of the 150 troops had survived. The company returns to camp, where the group takes time off for some rest and relaxation. The group goes for a swim in the canal, and see a group of French girls over a hill. They meet the girls and later sneak away to have fun with them. Soon, Paul is given a total of 17 days leave, "fourteen days leave and three days for travelling". After his period of leave, he must report to training. Paul decides to use this time to go back home and visit his family. After arriving at his hometown, Paul finds out that his mother is dying of cancer. In his hometown, Paul feels awkward and strange among the people of his town. During conversation, he tries to avoid the topic of war and his experiences in war. Paul found it difficult to talk to his father about his war experiences, and thought that his father couldn't understand him. Ironically, he also learns that his former teacher, Kantorek, who was the one to pressure Paul and his school-friends to join the army, was drafted into the army himself. Paul later visits Franz Kemmerich's mother and tells her that he had died painlessly and instantly, after he is questioned by her about his death. Before leaving for training, he spends the rest of his leave with his dying mother. After his leave, Paul reports for a 4 week course of training at a camp. Adjacent to the training camp is a prison camp for captured Russian prisoners of war. Paul realizes that the Russian prisoners are just like him - soldiers. Paul shows some compassion for the prisoners and shares his cigarettes with them, unlike many of the German soldiers, who often ignore them, and even spit on and kick them. Later, Paul's sister and father visit him to tell him that his mother had been sent to the hospital to undergo a surgical operation for her cancer. Paul and his father were still quite disconnected and couldn't find anything to talk about besides his mother and her cancer. Paul then rejoins his old group of friends at the frontlines. At the frontlines, Paul is forced into a shelled-out crater while evading artillery fire. While Paul is hiding in the shell-hole, an enemy soldier jumps into the crater and joins Paul. Paul immediately and instinctively stabs the enemy soldier to death. Paul watches as the man slowly and painfully dies, noting that the man was gurgling, crying, and gasping for air. Paul is remorseful, devastated, and upset about killing the man; who he later finds out was Gerard Duval, a husband and father, after looking through his personal effects. Paul later tells his friends about his first kill. After this ordeal, Paul and his company are ordered to defend and guard an abandoned village far away from front lines. Next, they are tasked with evacuating a village, and while doing so, Paul and one of his school-friends, Albert Kropp, are wounded. The two are sent to a catholic hospital via train. Kropp contemplates suicide because he was shot in the upper thigh and his leg was amputated as a result. After recovering, Paul returns to active duty and is reunited with his old group and Second Company; though many of his friends have died while he was away and continue to die one by one as time goes on. Eventually, Kat is killed by a piece of shrapnel from a frag grenade lodged in his head. By now, Paul is the only surviving soldier amongst his 7 school friends and his former group. The rumor spreading among the soldiers is that Germany will surrender and the war will soon end. Paul is frightened that when there is peace and he returns home, he will have not aims or goals. He fears that he knows only of war, and that his life is hopeless. He says, "if we go back [home] we will be weary, broken, burnt out, rootless, and without hope." Paul dies in October 1918, on a quiet day with very little activity. The author says that if you had flipped him over, his face would reveal a calm expression, "as though almost glad the end had come."
The story of All Quiet on the Western Front is told realistically through the viewpoint of a soldier in the field. Throughout the story, the author describes the conditions that soldiers must endure throughout war. He doesn't talk about ideals such as glory, honor or heroism; but rather, he focuses on the grim details of war, such as death, pain and suffering, and the psychological effects on soldiers. Remarque shows us the struggles that soldiers face day to day; the struggle to find food, the constant fear of attack, the uncertainty of when or if death will come. We see how the soldiers are broken and their lived destroyed, both physically and psychologically.
The book was originally written in German, but was translated by - and so the wording is a bit odd
Erich Maria Remarque was a veteran himself so the details are quite accurate and all soldiers in WWI can relate.
Kantorek, Paul and his school-friend's old teacher, constantly pressured them into joining the German Army.
Paul feels that "not belong here anymore, it is a foreign world."
carry out their "patriotic duty".
Story is told simply