Literature: All Quiet on the Western Front
"This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped its shells, were destroyed by the war."All Quiet on the Western Front
(Im Westen Nichts Neuesnote
) is a 1929 anti-war novel, set during World War I
, by famous German author and war veteran Erich Maria Remarque. It's considered to be one of the greatest and most important works in the genre.
Many of the elements of the narrative correspond to Remarque's own experiences, and the book has strong autobiographic undertones.All Quiet on the Western Front
is narrated by a young soldier, former grammar school student Paul Bäumer
. The horrors of trench warfare are described in a brutally realistic fashion
. Further themes are comradeship
and the soldiers' detachment from civilian life.
The book was a best-seller when it was first released. Initial German reaction was mixed, with reactionary Germans furious at this "disrespectful" "cowardly" and "treasonous" look at the German Army. Left-wing intellectuals, as well as many war veterans, on the other hand, praised the book highly, and its international reception was adoring, both for its excellent quality of writing and its stark look at the horrors of war. Those Wacky Nazis
were less than pleased - believing the book would "soften" Germany, they added it to their list of proscribed books, and it was burned publicly in 1933. Remarque fled to Switzerland and later to the United States. In 1943, his sister was beheaded by the Nazis as a stand in for him. They sent the 500,000RM bill for her imprisonment and execution to him
In 1930, an American film adaptation was made, directed by Lewis Milestone. It won the Best Picture Oscar
and is often considered to be the Trope Maker
of the modern war drama. It is also quite possibly the first really great sound film, made after Hollywood spent a couple of years struggling with the new medium of talkies. It has a place on the National Film Registry
An equally good TV adaptation was made in 1979, and a new film adaptation is currently in the works.
All Quiet on the Western Front and its adaptations contain examples of:
- An Arm and a Leg: Paul's former classmate Albert Kropp has his leg amputated when they're wounded together. This makes him contemplate suicide, but he eventually accepts his fate. Earlier, Franz Kemmerich, another classmate of Paul's has his leg amputated, but he doesn't survive.
- Anyone Can Die: Almost every important character in the battlefront is killed off, or at least horribly maimed to the point that their injuries are traumatic to their surviving friends.
- Armchair Military: A lot of the people back home. Especially since they continually ignore the reports and experiences of people who have actually served on the front ("You soldiers know only about your own little sector, but you don't see the big picture").
- Bad Ass: Kat. Also, Lt. Bertinck, who despite being mortally wounded lived long enough to make sure the enemy flamethrower was destroyed.
- Big Eater: Tjaden. It's remarked that he's also as skinny as a rail, despite his eating.
- Black Comedy: Not surprisingly the soldiers joke around morbidly when they have nothing better to do. Kat's Catchphrase/ is a cheery "They're saving me/him for last!".
- Black Market: Some civilians are interested in the real bread of the soldiers. Truth in Television however, because of the blockade on Germany, they couldn't get access to a lot of things, including food, and had to make do with things like turnips, which they quickly came to hate because that was about all they could eat at some points in the war.
- Born Lucky: Tjaden is frequently referred to as being considerably lucky. He's the only main character who isn't explicitly killed off, injured, or jailed by the story's end.
- Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: Paul muses that they didn't learn anything useful at school: "nobody ever taught us how to light a cigarette in a storm of rain, nor how a fire could be made with wet wood - nor that it is best to stick a bayonet in the belly because there it doesn't get jammed, as it does in the ribs."
- Break the Haughty: Himmelstoss stops being such a pompous Jerkass after he experiences real combat for the first time, presumably because he comes to really understand camaraderie.
- Bring My Brown Pants: A new recruit craps himself in his first fight. The veterans quietly tell him how to deal with it, and ask if he really thinks he's the first soldier ever to get the gun-shits.
- Brutal Honesty: When Paul's schoolmaster urges him to tell the next batch of recruits how glorious it is to be a soldier, he hesitates for a bit before telling them exactly how brutal and dehumanizing the experience is and that they're being sent to their deaths like his class before him.
- But for Me, It Was Tuesday:
- At the beginning, Paul sits at the bed of his friend, Kemmerich, who had his leg amputated. When he realizes that Kemmerich is dying, he runs for the doctor:
Paul: Come quick, Franz Kemmerich is dying!
Doctor: (to an orderly) Which will that be?
Orderly: Bed 26, amputated thigh.
Doctor: How should I know anything about it? I've amputated five legs today!
- Paul is killed on a day that was "so quiet and still on the whole front, that the army report confined itself to the single sentence: All quiet on the Western Front."
- Cloud Cuckoo Lander: This is one of few works which deconstructs the trope, using Paul as an example.
- The Cobbler's Children Have No Shoes: Zigzagged with Kat, who at first seems to have fit the name of the Trope perfectly before becoming a soldier, a poor cobbler with a lot of children. He can make shoes for his children, however, and he claims that it was a good thing he was a cobbler, or he never could have afforded them.
- Combat Pragmatist: Kat quickly disabuses Paul and his batch of recruits of useless training they received, saying how it looks pretty on paper but is ultimately impractical. Case in point, he explains how in close melee they'll die trying to get a bayonet thrust in- sharpened shovels are better when someone is right in your face.
- Cool Old Guy: Kat. He's 40, but still counts, as he's old compared to the people around him.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: On the enemy side near the end of the war. The Germans are out of trained soldiers, proper food and ammunition while their enemies have plenty of highly advanced tanks and planes that are practically impossible to defeat.
- Dead Man's Trigger Finger: A rather horrifying example involving a flamethrower.
- Death Is Such an Odd Thing: Despite having been Conditioned to Accept Horror, Paul isn't able to fully comprehend how the world can still be working and at the same time Kat can be dead.
Do I walk? Have I feet still? I raise my eyes, I let them move round, and turn myself with them, one circle, one circle, and I stand in the midst. All is as usual. Only the Militiaman Stanislaus Katczinsky has died.
- Despair Event Horizon: Paul has crossed it by the end of the book. He describes his feelings like this: "Let the months and years come, they can take nothing from me, they can take nothing more. I am so alone, and so without hope that I can confront them without fear."
- Detering has one when he sees the cherry blossoms in bloom. This causes him to desert the army and try to return home to his wife and farm. He's arrested and never heard from again.
- Distracted from Death: Kat dies while being carried to the hospital, and Paul doesn't notice until a medic at the hospital points it out.
- The Dog Bites Back: The teacher Kantorek is called up to service as a reserve soldier. He meets one of his old students who now outranks him, and forces him to drill. The former-student torments him by lecturing him with the same sayings and phrases he would make as a schoolteacher.
- Downer Ending: A Foregone Conclusion to anyone with a knowledge of the 20th century. The title even gets dropped as a military report indicating that everyone's gone.
- Drill Sergeant Nasty: Corporal Himmelstoss, who trained Paul and his friends. Himmelstoss does a Heel-Face Turn after having been forced to actually serve in the trenches.
- Dwindling Party: Starts off slow, but picks up the pace near the end.
- Dies Wide Open: The French soldier that Bäumer stabs dies like this.
- Eats Babies: The German soldiers, according to French propaganda eat Belgian children.
- Fatal Family Photo: After Paul kills a French soldier, he finds pictures of his wife and daughter (which makes him feel even more guilty).
- A Father to His Men: Lt. Bertinck; it helps that he was field promoted from the ranks.
- Fire-Forged Friends: Paul befriends some of the other German soldiers that were out in the field before them, such as Tjaden and especially Kat.
- Get a Hold of Yourself Man: A newbie in the trenches is getting hysterical to the point of trying to leave the bomb shelter. Everybody else in the shelter beats him up until he doesn't try to leave any more. Paul tells us that it's not pleasant, but it's the only thing that helps.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: Tjaden is occasionally described as "delivering the most famous quote from Götz von Berlichingen." Quoting Goethe seems harmless enough, right? Wrong, since the quote in question is: "Er aber, sags ihm, er kann mich im Arsche lecken". This is German for "But he, tell him that, he can lick me inside my arse!"
- Gray and Gray Morality : Full stop.
- The Hero Dies: Most, if not all, of Paul's classmates, along with some of the soldiers he befriends, end up dying throughout the war. Paul suffers the same fate, although slightly differently in the book and film. In the novel's epilogue he's stated to have died at some point before the end of the war, another casualty amongst the millions of men who died in the trenches. The film equally shows his pointless death as he tries to reach for a butterfly that's just outside of his trench, and he's killed by a sniper before he's able to reach it.
- Heroic BSOD : Paul has a very memorable one after stabbing the French soldier trapped with him in a crater to death and then listening to him slowly die during the entire sleepless night. After he examines the dead soldier's personal belongings, he repentantly promises to secretly support his family once the war ends. Then he realizes he can't, because they'd eventually find out who's the mysterious donor and realize he's the one who killed their relative.
- Heroic Sacrifice / Last Stand: Lt. Bertinck is mortally wounded in battle; before he dies, he makes sure to disable the enemy flamethrower with his pistol.
- Humiliation Conga: Himmelstoss gets this early on in the book as revenge for his harsh boot camp rituals.
- If You Die, I Call Your Stuff: A pair of good boots are passed around among the soldiers.
- Improvised Weapon: The entrenching tools double as a nice melee weapon, so much so that the veteran soldiers tell the New Meat that they are much more useful to killing someone than a bayonet, which could get stuck when you stabbed someone with it.
- In Medias Res: The story starts with the characters already in the trenches. Paul later reminiscences about their training.
- Instant Death Bullet: Averted; a character is shot shot point-blank in the stomach with a flare gun, and he is dying for half an hour "quite conscious and in terrible pain". Injuries are portrayed realistically and even the Ludicrous Gibs deaths can take a while as the victim screams in agony.
- I Will Fight Some More Forever: Criticized by the characters near the end of the war, as the German government insists on continuing a hopeless war.
- Kill 'em All: Just to drive the point home that war is absurd, unpredictable... and with NO real glory in store for anyone...
- Laser-Guided Karma: Paul's schoolmaster gets sent to the frontlines as a reservist and experiences exactly what he's sent hundreds of young men into. One of them even torments him about it, forcing him to do some drills now that he outranks his old teacher.
- Last Name Basis
- Loophole Abuse: At one point, one of the cooks refuses to serve the soldiers because all of them aren't there yet. However, the soldiers complain that due to the casualties they took in a recent battle, they are all present. The cook sees that there are only about half of the men present for the amount of food he has, and continues to refuse. A German officer then approaches, wondering what the commotion is about, and after he's told of the situation, he orders to cook to serve the men double rations, since they could use the food anyway and so as to not let the precious food go to waste. They happily help themselves to the much needed chow.
- Mad Doctor: The doctor at the Catholic hospital is rumored to be one.
- Most Writers Are Writers: Paul is an aspiring novelist.
- The Neidermeyer: Himmelstoss comes very close to this. Once he's assigned to duty at the front, he softens a bit because of warnings that front soldiers might just shoot him in the back. Later after actually seeing combat he softens further into a full Heel-Face Turn. (Presumably from a new appreciation of camaraderie.)
- New Meat: Paul says that the new recruits are almost useless, because they have no knowledge about trench warfare; "A man would like to spank them, they are so stupid, and to take them by the arm and lead them away from here where they have no business to be." It does not help that the recruits are teenagers and young boys by the time Paul is a seasoned veteran, meaning that they lack common sense to an even greater degree than previous batches of recruits.
- Not So Different: The French soldier that Paul stabs in a crater. At first it was out of pure self-defense, but as the two are stuck in that spot for a few hours and the Frenchman slowly dies, Paul starts to realize this guy wasn't much different than he was, had a family, and like him, was just following orders.
- Old Soldier: Kat.
- Only a Flesh Wound: Averted. A character dies from a leg injury, another is hit by a shrapnel on his hip, and quickly bleeds to death.
- Only Electric Sheep Are Cheap : An interesting non-sci-fi example. One of the soldiers in the story is overjoyed when he discovers an actual cherry tree in bloom during a march across the countryside to a new position. Since he (and the others) have spent entire weeks at the frontline, this is hardly suprising - the frontline being a lifeless war-torn muddy wasteland and all.
- Patriotic Fervor: Deconstructed. Paul's teacher (a jingoistic supporter of War Is Glorious) and Himmelstoss (a Drill Sergeant Nasty and Neidermeyer) end up being lousy soldiers that get in the way when it comes to actual fighting. Even when they realize how wrong they were, it still doesn't change how ineffective they are at soldiering. Being fervent about serving one's country and actually serving it are two very different things.
- Peaceful in Death: When Paul dies at the end, his facial expression is described as "calm, as though almost glad the end had come."
- Personal Effects Reveal: Paul is devastated when he goes through the French soldiers' belongings and finds family photos and other mementos that scream "This guy was a dad and a husband".
- Pet the Dog: Paul is willing to forgive Himmelstoss after seeing him carry a wounded Haie off the battlefield. Of course, there's also the officer's food he has to offer.
- Politically Motivated Teacher: Kantorek, who encourages his students to join the army, greatly romanticizing it as something glorious. Of course, he couldn't be farther from the truth.
- Precision F-Strike: in the (unabridged) English translation, the word "fuck" appears only once. Other profanities are not terribly common (with "shit" being used sparingly).
- Prussians in Pickelhauben: Obviously.
- Put on a Bus: Tjaden departs the story close to the end. With his being the lucky character, this is probably deliberate. In the British stage adaptation, he dies trying to save a dog that had become caught on some barbed wire.
- Real Award, Fictional Character: Himmelstoß is awarded an Iron Cross (2nd Class) in the 1979 movie - by Wilhelm II in person, no less.
- Red Shirt Army: As the protagonist explains it, the training of the time didn't really prepare soldiers for the war, so newbies got mowed down by the score. A few survived by blind luck long enough to learn proper survival strategies, and they formed a core constantly supplemented with New Meat.
- The Scrounger: Kat. His ability to find decent food and shelter is treated as something of a sixth sense. According to Paul "if for one hour in a year something eatable were to be had in some one place only, within that hour, as if moved by a vision, he would put on his cap, go out and walk directly there, as though following a compass, and find it."
- Serrated Blade of Pain: The narrator mentions that veterans on the front take away from new soldiers any sawtooth bayonets they find on them, as anyone captured with them is killed outright rather than taken prisoner.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: All characters became such people.
- Shovel Strike: The experienced soldiers sharpen their shovels into bladed weapons (a bit like a monk's spade), and use them against anyone who tries to rush their trench. The inexperienced soldiers use their cruddy bayonets in melee and die horribly. In the film, the majority of the German soldiers use entrenching tools.
- Skewed Priorities: The protagonists insist on finishing their cooking, even as shrapnel is literally whizzing past their heads.
- Small Name, Big Ego: Corporal Himmelstoss was a mere postman before the war began. The soldiers philosophize about this. Paul remarks how strange it is that in their seeking revenge against him, their greatest goal in life has become to "knock the conceit out of a postman."note
- Soldiers at the Rear: Corporal Himmelstoss, until he is sent to the front. More-so, an unnamed officer who catches Paul wearing his uniform while on home leave and forces him to parade and salute a bit before letting him go on his way.
- Stranger in a Familiar Land: Paul feels like this, when he visits home.
- Title Drop: On the last page. A cable from the High Command stating this is sent, at the end of the war the main character apparently died nearly the last day, like Real Life anti-war British poet soldier Wilfred Owen.
- Token Minority: Kat come from Polish stock, although it is not clear where he comes from. The facts that his first name is in the Germanized or Latinized form (Stanislaus, not Stanislaw) and his German is not coloured by Polish may indicated that his family was assimilated. (In the German dub of the 1930 film he speaks with an East Prussian accent).
- Too Dumb to Live: Many recruits do suicidally reckless things, driving home the point how many New Meat die from lack of common sense and how veterans become veterans just by surviving through dumb luck. In the second film, a teenager is seen dropping his gas mask into a gas-filled trench and retrieving it mask-less as Paul describes how clueless they are.
- Unfriendly Fire: The German soldiers are frequently in danger of being hit by their own artillery. Not from miscalculation, but because the barrels are worn.
- War Is Hell: The original title is literally "Nothing New in the West". Now think about what happened, the setting, and why there's nothing new. Both the book and the film make it a point to show that war isn't pretty, and in this case, brutal without much to show for it.
- Wide-Eyed Idealist: One Mauve Shirt character, and practically all of Paul's classmates at first. Then Reality Ensues, and they slowly realize that War Is Hell.
Tropes particular to the 1930 film:
- Bloodless Carnage: During the charge scene, not a lot of wounds are shown, with the exception of some tears in the back of German soldiers and two bloody hands holding on to barbed wire. Also played straight during the machine gun scene in the charge, where loads and loads of French soldiers are mowed down, yet their wounds are not shown.
- Butterfly of Death and Rebirth: When Paul goes home he sees his sister's butterfly collection. In the final scene Paul is shot and killed while reaching for a butterfly.
- The Cameo: Raymond Griffith had a very successful career as the star of a series of comedies in the 1920s. Unfortunately for him, he could not raise his voice above a whisper due to a childhood bout of diptheria, so his acting career ended with talkies. This film has his final role, a memorable non-speaking part as a French soldier that Paul kills.
- Call Back: Fairly early in the film, as Paul and his squad are marching into a combat zone for the first time, there's a shot of Paul and several other soldiers looking back at the truck that dropped them off. At the end, after every soldier in that shot has been killed, the shot of each soldier looking back is repeated.
- Catapult Nightmare: Kemmerich has a nightmare about Behn after Behn is killed.
- Dead Hand Shot:
- Paul's death is depicted like that.
- The most shocking scene in the whole movie shows an enemy soldier who is part of an attack on Paul's unit. As the soldier is reaching for a line of barbed wire, an artillery shell explodes. When the smoke clears, his severed hands are still clutching the wire.
- Does That Sound Like Fun to You?: When on leave, Paul goes back to his old classroom to see Kantorek using the same speech he told his class on another group of young innocent students. Excited to see one of his former students drop in, Kantorek encourages Paul to tell them how grand being in the front lines are. To his credit, Paul was really uncomfortable and insisted he had nothing to say, but caved to his teacher's demands... and flat out told the students that War Is Hell and that their teacher was going to send them to their deaths like his class before them. Because the students there haven't experienced it for themselves, with virtually all of them still a Wide-Eyed Idealist, they quickly denounce him and criticize him for having such a defeatist attitude.
- Insert Cameo: Paul's death scene shows his hand reaching for a butterfly; then a shot is heard, and the hand goes limp in death. The hand in the scene belonged to director Lewis Milestone.
- Ludicrous Gibs: Very few characters die in subtle ways. Almost all the French soldiers charging and the Germans get gibbed by artillery shells.
- Not Even Bothering with the Accent: The German characters are played by American actors, who speak with American accents. This, however, is intentional Translation Convention, in order to show American movie-goers just how much like us the German protagonists really are.
- Sexy Discretion Shot: When Paul is in bed with a French girl, the camera remains pointing at the opposite wall while they talk.
- Training from Hell: While the book also had some training described in it, the film goes to great lengths to show not just how awful the training is, but also how ineffective it really was on the front lines, such as when Kat tells Paul and his classmates that a bayonet is pretty useless in a melee fight compared to a sharpened shovel.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Himmelstoss is last seen charging along with other German soldiers. While the novel states he came out okay and became less of a Jerk Ass, the film seems to imply that he died during that particular attack.