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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.


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

In 1930, an American film adaptation was made, directed by Lewis Milestone and starring Lew Ayres as Paul. 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.

A Made-for-TV Movie adaptation was made in 1979. A new film adaptation was in Development Hell since about 2008 until it was picked up by Netflix, and is due to release in 2022, starring Daniel Brühl, Albrecht Schuch, Sebastian Hülk, Devid Striesow and Edin Hasanovic.


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 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.
  • Book Ends: Just after the beginning of the film Professor Katnorek gives a speech to Paul and friends on the 'wonders' of joining the German army and manages to persuade them to enlist for the 'fatherland' and to do their bit for Germany. Near the end of the film Paul catches his former teacher once again giving his speech to even younger looking men. This strongly implies that Professor Katnorek has done this many times during the war and one wonders how many young men he managed to persuade to fight via propaganda.
  • 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 them.
  • 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 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.
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: Taken to ridiculous levels when Paul casually mentions that the Russian POWs used to be so bored that it was common to walk into a whole cell of them getting off at once.
  • Dead Man's Trigger Finger: A rather horrifying example involving a flamethrower.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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: Himelstross 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.
  • Killed Offscreen: It is implied that Detering is executed after he deserts in a fit of homesickness.
  • 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.
    • Himmelstoss is sent to the front specifically because he was so hard on the cadets.
  • Last-Name Basis
  • 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.
    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.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. 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 
  • Small Role, Big Impact: The French soldier Duval is just a Red Shirt with no lines, but his death at Paul's hands is memorable in a disturbing way, and gives the latter a moment of Heroic BSoD.
  • 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.
  • Spiritual Successor: Gallipoli, another film about the pointless deaths of young men in World War I.
  • 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.
  • Suicide by Cop: At the end of the novel as Paul crosses the Despair Event Horizon, he stands up from the trenches, exposing himself to enemy fire. The novel leaves it up in the air whether it was deliberate or not.
  • 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.
  • 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 Stanislaw), his family name is spelled Katczinsky (the more standard Polish spelling would be Kaczynski) 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 (Poznan), 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.
  • 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 Katorik'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.
  • 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.
  • You Can't Go Home Again: Paul goes home on furlough, and finds himself unable to enjoy home comforts at all, because of his war experiences.
  • 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.

Tropes particular to the 1930 film:

  • Ascended Extra: Behm and Kemmerich get more scenes, given how the film shows the recruitment and training of the soldiers rather than just describing it.
  • Age Lift: Tjaden is only a few years older than Paul and his classmates in book, but is played by forty-two year old Slim Summerville in this 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 the debut of the talkies. This film has his final role, a memorable non-speaking part as a French soldier that Paul kills.
  • 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 is really uncomfortable and insists he has nothing to say, but caves to his teacher's demands... and flat out tells the students that War Is Hell and accuses their teacher of sending them to their deaths like his class before them. Because the students there haven't experienced it for themselves, virtually all of them quickly denounce him as a defeatist.
  • 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 belongs 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.
  • Rule of Symbolism:
    • The weapons of war are terrifying inventions that bring only pain. While words can grasp at the horrors of war, they can never fully express them. Reading about war can only hint at the devastation of battle: only through experience can you truly understand. Both the original novel and Milestone's adaptation attempt to grasp at war's horrors through a visual medium ... knowing full well that you can only use art to begin to touch the hellscape of war. Milestone's goal was to depict the ghastly injures and death these weapons dealt. And, while the film's imagery might not completely encompass the real experience, it's pretty damn unsettling. The major weapons featured in the movie are rifles, shells, bombs, barbed wire, machine guns, and hand-to-hand armaments such as knives, bayonets, and spades. That's a lot of weapons. Even by today's standards, the battles scenes are super gruesome, even with black-and-white blood. Machine guns mow down lines of men. Soldiers trip over barbed wire, shredding their flesh in the process. The hand-to-hand combat scene in the trenches is harrowing — watching swarms of men stab, slash, and beat each other in claustrophobic quarters is not meant to be taken lightly. Tanks and airplanes made their wartime debut during World War I. Kat mentions both to Paul while discussing the Germans' struggles to defend their lines... right before being killed by an air raid. Though the high war-tech invented for WWI is mentioned in the film, we don't actually see a lot of it in action. This was likely due to technical limitations.
    • Wartime trauma is another huge factor in the adaptation. Beyond the physical violence, Milestone also focuses on the psychological trauma the weapons of WWI reaped. During Paul's first stint on the Front, we begin to see the mental toll they have on the soldiers. For one thing the soldiers had nearly an entire week of no sleep because of the constant noise of bombs going off near and even worse, they never knew when one of those shells would hit. Kemmerick suffers even worse than Paul, mentally eroding to the point that he tries to leave the safety of the dugout. Other cases of mental anguish include Paul's depression over killing the French soldier and Albert's suicidal longing after learning his leg has been amputated. At that's not even getting into "shell shock" for after the war ends. Paul suffers from depression when he returns home. Kemmerick has nightmares after witnessing Behn's death, and Paul feels guilty over surviving when his friends haven't.
    • Due to constant bombardments and barrages of men advancing into machine-gun fire, The appropriately named No Man's Land is a nightmarescape of mud, shell holes, gnarled barbed wire, splintered trees, and, of course, corpses scattered about like seeds thrown onto a field. Consider Paul's experience during the German offensive. The church—a holy place where men are meant to gather to worship—is blasted into ruins. The graveyard next to it is hit with shells, literally raising the dead from their graves to mingle among the living. When Paul takes cover in the crater, he's forced to stab a French soldier. He then attempts to comfort the soldier by providing him a drink, but all he has to offer is muddied, bloody water lying stagnant at the bottom of the crater. Even a basic, life-sustaining necessity such as clean water is absent within No Man's Land. In comparison, when the soldiers take leave from the Front, they're often surrounded by pastoral nature. They eat their fill of beans and bread and lie beneath a tree that remains intact rather than uprooted by shell blasts. That's just how tough times are. Another time, Paul and his comrades find a river to bathe in. With more than enough water to drink, the soldiers get to clean away the dirt and grime that covers them during their time at the Front. Again, they're excited by a cold river. The differences in the landscape help show how the soldiers' states of mind change—it's all location. Away from the Front, the landscape can provide the physical needs of the soldier, allowing him to turn his attention to more social considerations. He can discuss the purpose and worth of the war, take care of his body by eating and bathing…and even get close to hot French girls. But every aspect of No Man's Land requires the soldier to focus on survival and only survival. Every broken tree, muddied crater, and bombed-out building reminds us that death is an ever-present danger—death of the soldiers, death of nature, death of everything.
    • Kemmerick's boots have Italian leather, comfy insoles, the works. But the previous owner was gunned down while wearing them. The owner before him? Blown up. The owner before the owner before him? Shredded by shrapnel. We're first introduced to this jinxed pair of footwear when Kemmerick parades them about during boot camp. He places them jokingly on Mueller's shoulders. Since the army lives on its feet, a soldier needs proper boots for the long marches and days of work—especially on the Western Front. Between the mud and unhygienic conditions, soldiers require good boots to prevent blisters, frostbite, and foot fungus. Later, Kemmerick's wounded by shrapnel. As he lies dying in a field hospital, Paul and his friends visit him and Mueller notices the boots. Mueller asks Kemmerick if he can have the boots since he won't need them. As the group leaves, Mueller confesses to Paul he didn't want to get the boots over Paul. Mueller's confession shows us how the war has changed these young men. Mueller has to think about his survival at all times. Although asking for the boots upsets Kemmerick—it's basically the equivalent of saying Kemmerick would die. Kemmerick can't use the boots, but another soldier can. In fact, they could save another soldier's life. We see that survival has to always be at the forefront in a soldier's mind, sacrificing more "civilized" considerations such as decorum and thoughtfulness. In the end, Kemmerick does die, and Paul takes the boots for Mueller. Mueller's shown proudly marching with his new boots, but he's injured during an offensive in No Man's Land. Next, we see Peter marching in the boots—and then Peter's shown being killed while going over the top.
    • If you take a good look at Kantorek's blackboard behind him. The phrase he's scrawled there is the first line of Homer's The Odyssey, which roughly translates to "Tell me, oh Muse, of that ingenious hero who traveled far and wide." This line supports Kantorek's worldview and provides us an insight into his militaristic fervor. Having been raised on the classics like The Iliad and The Odyssey, Kantorek sees war as something glorious, an event where nations invest young men and get worldly, ingenious heroes. And his own words follow a similar ideal: "Here is a glorious beginning for your lives. The field of honor calls you." Of course, he believes that. His experience of war comes from the ancient Greeks, who didn't exactly like to write epic poems about losers or dead men. Odysseus went to war and then had an epic poem written about him.
    • "Oscar" —a rat that hangs out with the soliders— chews on a piece of the soldiers' bread, and Kat throws his shoe at the little beastie. While Kat tosses the bread aside, Tjaden retorts he'd regret that choice. Rats aren't thought of as being so brazen about snatching food from people, but in the trenches, the humans have entered the rats' world: the world of survival—kill or be killed; eat or be eaten. Later, the men are starving and Kat returns from foraging with stale bread and no butter—the same food that Oscar foraged from the soldiers earlier. Rats come pouring into their dugout and the soldiers begin killing them with their spades. Immediately afterward, the Allied offensive starts, and we see the soldiers fighting in the trenches. They use all manner of hand-to-hand weapons to kill each other, including the same spades they used to kill the rats. The contrast shows us the equalizing of man and beast as a result of the war. Both live in holes; both forage for food; both fight, kill, and bite to survive. The film suggests that we shouldn't talk about "dogs of war" so much as "rats of war."
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: When Paul is in bed with a French girl, the camera remains pointing at the opposite wall while they talk.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Leer is killed near the end of the book, but survives the battle where Paul is injured in the film and isn't among those who Tjaden lists as having died or been court-martialed once Paul gets back. Lieutenant Bertnick's death scene is also cut from the film.
  • 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 Jerkass, the film seems to imply that he died during that particular attack.

Alternative Title(s): All Quiet On The Western Front