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Literature / All Quiet on the Western Front

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"This book is to be neither 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. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped 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 autobiographical 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.

Remarque had actually written the book back in 1927, but it was first published two years later, due his difficulty in finding a publisher willing to publicize the book due to its controversial content. However; it would turn out to be 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. Nazis were less than pleased — believing the book would "soften" Germany, they added it to their list of proscribed books, and it was one of the first books to be burned publicly in 1933. They also spread several falsehoods about Remarque through propaganda, namely that his "real" last name was Kramer ("Remark" spelled backwards) and that he was from a Jewish background (both these bits of misinformation even made it into a couple of later biographies on Remarque). 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.note 

It had a sequel of sorts, The Road Back, published in 1931.

Several adaptations were made:

All Quiet on the Western Front and its adaptations contain examples of:

  • Adaptational Expansion: The 1979 Made-for-TV Movie adaptation shows much more of Paul's last days at school under Kantorek and of his basic training drill under Himmelstoss. Both Kantorek and Himmelstoss are comparatively minor characters in the novel.
  • All for Nothing: One of the book's main themes is that all of the personal sacrifice - deaths, injuries, psychological trauma, was in vain - both for the main characters and for all of those who fought in the First World War. Not only because Germany was losing the war, but because the war itself was a pointless conflict sold to the public and to soldiers through misleading propaganda about patriotism and national glory.
  • 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.
    • After an enemy bombardment slackens off, Paul crawls out of a shell hole and is greeted by the sight of a severed leg.
    • Paul watches an enemy soldier fall into barbed wire. After an explosion there's nothing left but two severed hands gripping the wire.
  • Anyone Can Die: Almost every important character on the battlefront is killed off, or at least horribly maimed to the point that their injuries are traumatic to their surviving friends. This includes Paul himself.
  • 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").
  • 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/Phrase Catcher 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.
  • 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."
  • Butterfly of Death and Rebirth: One day Paul is startled to see two butterfly land, as there are no plants or flowers in the aea. The butterflies "settle on the teeth of a skull."
  • 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 about the 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.
  • Conscription: All protagonists are conscripts. So are the French.
  • Cool Old Guy: Kat. He's 40, but still counts, as he's old compared to the people around him.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death:
    • Being exposed to gas attacks is described in such horrific detail like slow asphyxiation and scorched lungs that it easily qualifies for this trope.
    • A lot of the injuries are described as this, but special mention goes to a soldier who was supposedly shot in the spine, paralyzed and screaming in pain for hours as no one can find where he was before finally expiring.
    • Peter Leer has a piece of shrapnel tear open his hip, causing him to bleed to death in a quick but agonizing fashion before anyone can help him.
    • Müller takes an excrutiating half an hour to die after being shot point blank with a flare gun.
  • 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. A French flamethrower gets shot, but his finger's still on the trigger and he winds up burning his partner alive.
  • Death by Adaptation: Tjaden is implied to survive the war in most versions of the story. But in the British stage adaptation, his luck runs out and he gets killed trying to save a dog caught on some barbed wire.
  • 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."
    • Kat's death really serves as the final nail in Paul's coffin and the last tether of hope and humanity whisked away from him. Additionally, it's the moment where he gets pushed over the edge mentally.
      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. Then I know nothing more.
    • 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.
  • Dies Wide Open: The French soldier that Bäumer stabs dies like this.
  • 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 militiaman. 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.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Many soldiers are killed in this manner, with Paul's death being most tragic example, as he was killed on the day that is described by the army report in one sentence: "All quiet on the Western Front".
  • Dwindling Party: Starts off slow, but picks up the pace near the end. Goes straight to Anyone Can Die in that almost every named character starts kicking the bucket.
  • 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.
  • Flashback: Chapter 2 includes an extended flashback in which Paul remembers boot camp. He talks about how dehumanizing it was but then has to admit that it actually did result in toughening the boys up, fostering comradeship, and enabling them to survive the trenches.
  • Food Porn: The book frequently describes all the food the soldiers eat in great detail.
  • 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.
  • Go, Ye Heroes, Go and Die: When the Kaiser visits, he delivers what he thinks is a Rousing Speech, but is actually filled with the most empty, vacuous language possible, amounting to "If you throw yourself at the enemy machine guns and somehow survive, then you, too, will stand here and earn this piece of tin with a fancy ribbon!". The fact that he delivers it in an empty, ruined shell of a town doesn't help, either.
  • Gray-and-Gray Morality: Full stop.
  • Hate Sink: Subverted with Corporal Himmelstoss. At first he seems like he's there for the audience to hate, given the impersonal nature of the story's conflict and the lack of any real antagonists. But then he goes and improves himself.
  • The Hero Dies: Most of Paul's named 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: Lt. Bertinck is mortally wounded in battle; before he dies, he makes sure to disable the enemy flamethrower with his pistol.
  • Home Guard: While home on leave Paul discovers that Kantorek, the asshole French teacher who goaded all his students into enlisting, has been mustered as a "Territorial". Paul is very amused by how ridiculous Kantorek looks, and Mittelstaedt, who hates Kantorek just as much and is drilling the Territorials, goes out of his way to screw with his old teacher.
  • Humiliation Conga: Himmelstoss gets this early on in the book as revenge for his harsh boot camp rituals.
  • Hypocrite: Kantorek urges the young men he teaches to fight, but doesn't enlist voluntarily.
  • If You Die, I Call Your Stuff: A pair of good boots are passed around among the soldiers. By the end, they are Paul's, and he's already promised them to someone else.
  • 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 for 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 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.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Himelstoss who serves as a sergeant towards the new recruits might be a bully towards his men but he was simply trying to get his troops to prepare for war by following strict commands.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Himmelstoss eventually becomes this. He begins as a sadistic drill-sergeant and cowardly frontline soldier, but shows his core decency on other occasions, perhaps most notably when he risks his life to carry the (much larger and heavier) mortally wounded Haie Westhus to safety.
  • Killed Offscreen: It is implied that Detering is executed after he deserts in a fit of homesickness.
  • 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.
    • Himmelstoss is sent to the front specifically because he was so hard on the cadets.
  • Last-Name Basis: Paul refers to all of his comrades except for "Kat" Katczinsky by last names. He also mentions that Kat's first name is Stanislaus.
  • Literary Allusion Title: Of a sort. The title Im Westen nichts Neues, though stated to be from an official war report (see Title Drop), is very reminiscent of the phrase Vor Paris nicht Neues ("nothing new before Paris"), which frequently appeared in the official telegraphic bulletins at the time of the siege of Paris during the Franco-German War and which had entered the German language as a stock phrase meaning "situation unchanged". The English title did not translate this literally, but appears to be alluding to a frequent phrase in official bulletins from the American Civil War, "All quiet on the Potomac", which has slightly different connotations.
  • 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.
  • Lowered Recruiting Standards: It's the tail end of World War I, so it's a given. While a whole chapter is devoted to Paul's lengthy flashback about boot camp, and the extensive training, later in the story the reinforcements sent to the front have had hardly any training.
    Our fresh troops are anaemic boys in need of rest, who cannot carry a pack, but merely know how to die. By thousands. They understand nothing about warfare, they simply go on and let themselves be shot down.
  • Mad Doctor: The doctor at the Catholic hospital is rumored to be one. The surgeon basically uses wounded soldiers as lab rats for experimental surgical procedures, many of which leave them in far worse shape than when they came in.
  • Mercy Kill: Discussed. Kat and Paul debate this after finding a comrade who is horribly wounded, his hip torn open by a shell. They are about to do it when others arrive, so they call for a stretcher instead.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Paul is an aspiring novelist and playwright.
  • Named After Someone Famous: The narrator is named after World War I flying ace Paul Bäumer (43 confirmed air victories), reportedly because the real Bäumer was Remarque's dentist for a time.
  • The Napoleon: When the soldiers finally meet the Kaiser in person, they are disappointed to see he is just a short man with a weak voice (but a big ego).
  • 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" Remark: With 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.
    But now, for the first time, I see you are a man like me. I thought of your hand-grenades, of your bayonet, of your rifle; now I see your wife and your face and our fellowship. Forgive me, comrade. We always see it too late. Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony—Forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy?
  • Obfuscating Insanity: Josef Hamacher, a patient at the hospital where Paul and Albert are temporarily stationed. He has a "special permit" that claims he's sporadically not responsible for his actions due to a head injury, but in reality, he's sane and exploiting his permit to stay in the hospital away from the fighting as long as possible.
  • Old Soldier: Kat. Despite being barely around 40, he's still twice the age of everyone else. Thrice eventually, due to Lowered Recruiting Standards.
  • Ominous Fog: Paul talks of how, even on a warm night, the mist is cold, the "mysterious mist that trails over the dead and sucks from them their last, creeping life."
  • 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 surprising—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. When you look at the story from Paul's perspective, however, he couldn't be farther from the truth.
  • Posthumous Character: Josef Behm died well before the point where Paul starts narrating the novel (although he is featured in a couple flashbacks).
  • 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).
  • Present Tense Narrative: The novel is told in the present tense, emphasizing the immediacy of the soldiers' experience.
  • Pre-War Civilian Career:
    • Kat was a cobbler before joining, which was fortunate because he and his wife would otherwise have never been able to afford shoes for their children.
    • Corporal Himmelstoss was a mere postman before the war. Paul's goal after the war is to join the postal service and become Himmelstoss' superior.
    • Paul notably doesn't have one, and at one point notes that he and his classmates haven't really learned any trade or profession — except how to kill people.
    • The French soldier, Duval, was a printer before the war — not some fierce professional warrior, but an ordinary guy doing an everyday job. This only makes Paul feel even more guilty for killing him.
  • Put on a Bus:
    • When Paul is released from the hospital, Albert, who has had a leg amputated, is left behind. His fate is ambiguous, but while another character early in the novel dies in a hospital after an amputation, Albert is said to be getting his appetite back.
    • 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.
  • Sad Clown: Late in the book, as the war starts to take a turn for the worse, there are news reports mentioning the soldiers' good sense of humor. Paul points out that they're not really trying to be funny with their Black Comedy; instead, it's the only way they're able to hold on to their sanity.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: Paul's friend Mittelstaedt gets away with humiliating their former teacher Kantorek once he is drafted partially because their commanding officer's daughter is sweet on him.
  • 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." Haie Westhaus is also described as one, being an extension of Kat in some regards.
  • 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 and gruesomely mutilated rather than taken prisoner.
    • Such blades did exist, but were meant to be a combination of a knife with a saw (to cut wood for supporting the trenches), and not exactly a weapon.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: All characters became such people. Paul and Detering in particular cross the Despair Event Horizon.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Paul's whole ordeal in the war and his potential plans to write a book about his experience ends up being All for Nothing as by the end of the book, he is killed in October 1918, a mere month away from the end of war.
  • 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. Within the trench, there isn't enough room to use a rifle bayonet. 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.
  • Skinnydipping: Paul and his buddies are skinnydipping in a canal when they're spotted by some French girls on the opposite bank. They wind up swimming over under cover of night, again, to exchange food for sex.
  • 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. Furthermore, he muses that, even if he survives the war, he will be unable to return to a civilian lifestyle because he hasn't learned any skills other than how to fight.
    But a sense of strangeness will not leave me, I cannot feel at home amongst these things.
  • Survivor Guilt: Paul starts to experience this after most of his comrades are dead.
  • Survivorship Bias: Averted. Almost every named character dies by the end. It's justified since the film is based around an Anvilicious anti-war message.
  • Swarm of Rats: There are tons of rats that gorge themselves on the countless corpses on the battlefield. They grow so large and bold that they are able to swarm and kill dogs and cats at one point.
  • Taught by Experience: Downplayed. The core of fighting troops is made from people who thanks to dumb luck and blind chance managed to survive long enough to learn useful things. Paul notes there is no real point trying to transfer that knowledge on New Meat, as they are too young, too dumb and too indoctrinated to listen, so eventually he just passively ignores wave after wave of reinforcements, each time younger than the last one.
  • These Hands Have Killed: Paul has a long time to think about this, when he's stuck in a shell hole for a long time with the slowly dying French soldier that he stabbed.
    This is the first time I have killed with my hands, whom I can see close at hand, whose death is my doing.
  • Title Drop: On the last page. A cable from the High Command stating this is sent, in October 1918, i.e. two to six weeks before the end of the war.
  • Token Minority:
    • Kat comes 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 Stanisław), his family name is spelled Katczinsky (the more standard Polish spelling would be Kaczyński) and his German is not coloured by Polish may indicate that his family was assimilated, maybe even centuries before. Polish and other Slavic names are and have been fairly common in Germany, particularly in the Eastern Provinces of Prussia like Silesia, East and West Prussia (in the German dub of the 1930 film Kat speaks with an East Prussian accent), and the Ruhr Valley.
    • There is also minor character Lewandowski, a fellow patient in military hospital. The novel mentions that his wife lives in "Poland", which presumably indicates the Prussian province of Posen (Poznań), the least assimilated Polish-speaking part of the kingdom. Also note that Paul Bäumer's teacher is called Kantorek, which would indicate a Polish or Czech ancestry.
    • Tjaden is a Frisian family name.
  • 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.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: Himmelstoss is humbled by his experiences on the front line and genuinely regrets his cruelty towards Paul, Tjaden, etc during basic training. He makes up for it by providing them with extra rations when he becomes the mess hall cook.
  • Uncertain Doom: Detering is arrested after deserting. He is sent before a field tribunal and never heard from again. We never find out what happened to him, but it's likely he was Shot at Dawn.
  • 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.
    • Fragging was cited as an hazard of being The Neidermeyer or a Drill Sergeant Nasty.
  • Ur-Example: 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 are pretty much the Trope Codifiers in that they portray trench warfare as not a pretty sight.
  • War Is Glorious: Kantorek firmly believed this to be the case, and instilled this mindset in most of his students. But as time goes on, the protagonists don't see it that way anymore; see below.
  • War Is Hell:
    • Paul and his friends were thrilled and excited to go and fight after listening to Professor Kantorek's speech. But they soon realise it was not what they expected as they end up living in terrible conditions on the western front and live in constant terror implying the speech was propaganda.
    • The nightmarish horrors of trench warfare are described in clinical detail: soldiers dying in agony in no-man's-land with their friends unable to help them, horses staggering around the battlefield with their guts blown out, young soldiers weeping in bunkers during bombardments. In one passage Paul goes into detail about how the corpses piled in no-man's-land bloat as they rot, how they "hiss, belch, and make movements" due to the gases of decay trapped inside.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: In the penultimate chapter, Paul remarks that all of his close friends from his unit are gone, either killed or seriously injured. However, it's never stated what became of Tjaden the locksmith - he's never mentioned as being seriously injured or killed.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: One Mauve Shirt character, and practically all of Paul's classmates at first. Then they have their first experience in the front lines and slowly realize that War Is Hell.
  • Younger Than They Look: Haie Westhus comes off as being older than Paul due to his height and musculature, but they're the same age.