“All Quiet on the Western Front” Chapter Summaries

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“All Quiet on the Western Front” Chapter Summaries

The following chapter summaries are intended only as a guide to help you remember the events in the novel and when they take place. They should also help you find quotations more quickly as you revise for the exam. You should NOT rely on these as being the only thing you need to revise for the exam!

Chapter One

A peaceful, gentle start to the novel, in stark contrast to the horrors that come all too quickly as the novel progresses. Paul tells us that “We are satisfied and at peace”. There is deep irony here as these men are soldiers in a war and, so, are never truly “at peace”. This introduces immediately the idea that the soldiers have trained themselves to quell all deeper thoughts and emotions, and to live for the moment. We learn that the second company has suffered very heavy losses and there are enough rations for almost double the number of men who have survived. This chapter demonstrates that the men are happy when their most basic need are met; sleep, food, cigarettes, rest. The war has made anything further seem like redundant luxuries.

You will also find in this chapter:

  • Description of latrine organisation – comradeship.

  • Evidence of lyrical style where war and nature meet. (13/14)

  • Description of Kantorek – betrayal of Youth by older generation.

  • Story of Joseph Behm – betrayal of Youth by older generation.

  • Paul ‘s thoughts on how the older generation have failed him and his contemporaries. (16/17) – betrayal of Youth by older generation.

  • Kemmerich’s boots – destructiveness of war; comradeship; symbolism.

Chapter Two

  • Paul’s plays and poetry – characterisation of Paul; destructive nature of war.

  • Contrast of the boys of twenty and the men, such as Kat and Detering, who have already established an adult life – destructive nature of war.

  • Description of camp and Himmelstoss’ abuse of power (26-29) – destructive nature of war.

  • Kemmerich’s death (29-35) – Doctors and orderlies seem indifferent but they have witnessed so much death; Kemmerich’s is the 17th of the day. – destructive nature of war.

  • Paul’s desire to live, to experience physical sensation, to affirm his own sense of being alive - characteristion; destructive nature of war.

Chapter Three

  • Contrast with horror of Kemmerich’s death; we are given a brief respite from the physical horrors – structure.

  • Description of Kat – comradeship.

  • Discussion of war as a political issue (40 onwards) futility of war.

  • Reminiscences of life in the training camp; they wish to return to it.

  • We find out Himmelstoss is coming to the front; great glee amongst Paul and his friends.

  • Himmelstoss’ cure for Tjaden’s bed wetting; abuse of power part of destructive nature of war.

  • Himmelstoss’ beating – destructive nature of war.

Chapter Four

  • Unrelieved horror of the front line; the first time we experience Paul’s first hand account of battle on the Western Front.

  • Description of how the soldiers’ faces change, reflecting the way in which they deal with the front.

  • Important description of the earth (52/53) – style, destructive nature of war.

  • Description of bombardment; Paul trying to help recruit – comradeship; destructive nature of war.

  • Gas attack – destructive nature of war (horror)

  • Recruit injured; Paul and Kat consider shooting him – comradeship; destructive nature of war.

Chapter Five
Note contrast with preceding chapter. Having presented us with graphic and distressing descriptions of the unrelieved horror and frenzy of battle, Remarque takes us back to where the soldiers are at rest. Through the conversations of the soldiers, we are left to consider how war is entirely destructive of past, present and future. A generation of men are left without any sense of what they might do in future should they survive the physical destruction of the war.

  • Paul and his friends discover that Himmelstoss is coming to the front.

  • (70-71) discussion of what will happen after the war – destructive nature of war.

  • (77 onwards) Kropp, Muller and Paul – can imagine nothing after the war. Everything they learned at school is “rot” and they can’t take concerns such as salary and professions seriously; they make Paul “sick”. Destructive nature of war.

  • Kat and Paul cook and find goose; take some to Tjaden and Kropp (under open arrest for baiting Himmelstoss) - comradeship.

Chapter Six
This Chapter returns both the soldiers and the reader to the unimaginable suffering endured by the soldiers at the front. In contrast to Chapter four, this chapter covers several days at the front rather than the one night covered in Chapter four. The pace of the book increases as Paul grows so familiar with the horror that each dreadful incident rolls into the next. This chapter recounts, in horrible detail, just how many and various, are the ways in which a man can suffer.

  • Chapter opens with men walking past coffins intended for them.

  • The description of the rats. (90 onwards)

  • We are made aware of the waiting that goes on in the trenches; days go by, under bombardment, when there is little to do but sit in terrified anticipation.

  • Bombardment goes on for 3 days and nights; the men are starving; even Kat fails to find food.

  • The more experienced soldiers men work hard to contain themselves but the new recruits give way to terror, one of them so badly that he has to be beaten and tied up to prevent leaving the dugout.

  • The horror of the French attack. (I know I’m using the word “horror” a lot but nothing else really seems to cover it.)

  • (104- 108) Paul on sentry duty. Gives brief respite from fighting. Thinking back to being in Cathedral cloister and thinking about love.

  • Paul explains how these memories and the desires expressed in them are no longer “attainable”.

  • They have to listen to a man dying for two days; the other soldiers risk their lives to try and find him – comradeship.

  • New recruits killed in vast numbers; too inexperienced to survive.

  • Himmelstoss refuses to get out of the trench.

  • Haie Westhus is killed.

  • Only 32 men remain in Second Company.

Chapter Seven

  • A break from the fighting

  • Trenches are a great leveller and Himmelstoss realises how he has abused his power in the past; he is rehabilitated in the reader’s mind.

  • Paul considers the effect the war has had on them; at the front they are “animals”: at rest they are “wags and loafers”.

  • They cannot afford to think or feel at all; they work hard at squashing all emotion in order to survive.

  • Incident with girl on poster; they rip off the young man.

  • Paul sleeps with the French girl.

  • Paul’s leave; tumult of emotions.

  • Incident with Major before Paul has time to dress in civilian clothes.

  • Father, and old schoolmasters want him to talk about war: he refuses.

  • The destruction of Paul’s past and future shown in alienation from his old room.

  • Kantorek has been called up - Middelstaedt uses this as opportunity to humiliate him.

  • Visit to Kemmerich’s mother.

  • Paul and his conversation with his mother; all the more poignant as we know she is dying.

Chapter Eight.

  • Paul spends time at the training camp; he prefers to keep to himself.

  • Paul’s love of nature; beauty of nature.

  • Paul guards Russian soldiers and is moved by their pitiable condition.

  • Paul muses on how such wars begin and, how, if one man were to sign a document, he could be fighting on the same side as the Russians.

  • Resolves that after the war, when it is “safe” to think again he will make it is task to point out the futility and stupidity of war. (Is this Remarque speaking here? He has done that very thing in writing this novel.)

  • Russian soldier plays the violin – comradeship.

  • Paul’s mother in hospital with cancer; we learn some of the circumstances of Paul’s family.

Chapter Nine.

  • Paul spends several days returning to the front; the journey is covered in just a few sentences. The pace of the novel is continuing to speed up.

  • Relieved to be back with his friends.

  • Kaiser’s visit leads to discussion on how wars start – exposes futility and destructive nature of war.

  • Paul’s first patrol since being on leave; terrified - his emotions have been unlocked since being on leave and he is less practised in controlling his feelings.

  • Paul’s feelings when he hears the voice of his friends – comradeship.

  • Paul lost in No Man’s Land alone. The French attack as Paul is trying to make his way back.

  • (187 onwards) Paul stabs Frenchman; spends night and day with the dying man in the trench. This is a key episode in the novel; brings all the themes together.

  • Paul returns to his friends and the emotions he felt in the dugout with the Frenchman fade away.

Chapter Ten

  • Paul and his friends are left to guard a village, where they make the most of the opportunity.

  • They risk their lives to make a wonderful meal; after they have eaten it, all the men are ill, as they are not used to rich food.

  • Humour as they treat each other as valets – comradeship.

  • As they return from village, Albert Kropp and Paul are both injured.

  • Paul is embarrassed and ashamed of his filthy condition when he sees the clean sheets of the hospital bed on the train.

  • Albert’s condition worsens and Paul pretends to have a fever so as he can stay with him – comradeship.

  • Paul and Albert spend time in hospital; Albert has to have his leg amputated from the hip.

  • The episode in the hospital is, in many ways, just as bad as reading about the trenches.

  • Paul has leave at the end of the chapter: it is covered in two sentences and Paul says starkly “It is all much worse than it was the last time.”

Chapter Eleven.

  • Months are passing at the front; Paul no longer counts and nor does the reader – structure.

  • Bertinck and Leer are both killed.

  • As rumours of an armistice grow, it becomes harder and harder to go to the front: “No! No! Not now! Not at the last moment.”

  • Kat is killed. Paul carries him to the dressing station, only to discover he has been hit by a tiny splinter in his head -comradeship.

Chapter Twelve.

  • A very short chapter. It is autumn and the end of the war can only be a few weeks away, at most.

  • Paul has leave as he has “swallowed some gas”

  • Paul’s desire to live becomes a “greed of life”.

  • On the very last page, in two short paragraphs, the narrative voice becomes third person:

“Turning him over, one saw that he could not have suffered long; his face had an expression of calm, as though almost glad the end had come.”

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