"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 Which translates far better as "Nothing New on the Western Front", but the first English translators thought this wouldn't be snappy enough) 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, in 1941, his sister was beheaded by the Nazis as a stand in for him. They sent the 500,000RM bill for her imprisonment and executionto him in Davos.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. 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 film 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.
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.
Banned in China: The book was banned in Nazi Germany after 1933 for being anti-war. Even before, screening of the films in Germany were disrupted by Nazi supporters who released rats into the theaters. Ironically, the same book and film got banned in several countries that Imperial Germany annexed or seized for being pro-German.
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.
Bloodless Carnage: In the film, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!"
In Medias Res: The story starts with the characters already in the trenches. Paul later reminiscences about their training.
Insert Cameo: In the 1930 film, 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.
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.
Ludicrous Gibs: Very few characters die in subtle ways. In the film, almost all the French soldiers charging and the Germans get gibbed by artillery shells.
Mad Doctor: The doctor at the Catholic hospital is rumored to be one.
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.
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".
Popcultural Osmosis: The famous "butterfly" scene from the film is parodied by people who may well have never heard of the film, let alone the book.
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).
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.