All Quiet on the Western Front
"This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped its shells, were destroyed by the war."
All Quiet on the Western Front (Im Westen Nichts Neues) 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.
The book was a best-seller when it was first released. 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.
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.
- 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.
- Badass: Kat. Also, that one guy who was mortally wounded and lived long enough to make sure the enemy fleet was wiped out.
- Big Eater: Tjaden.
- 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."
- 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: In the movie, 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.
- Cloudcuckoolander: This is one of the few works that this troper has found which deconstructs the trope, using Paul as an example.
- Cool Old Guy: Kat. He's 40, but still counts, as he's old compared to the people around him.
- Dead Hand Shot: The 1930 film depicts Paul's death like that.
- 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."
- 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.
- Does That Sound Like Fun to You?: In the 1930 film, when on leave, Paul goes back to his old classroom to see Kantorek using the same speech he told his class on another group of young innocent students. Excited to see one of his former students drop in, Kantorek encourages Paul to tell them how grand being in the front lines are. To his credit, Paul was really uncomfortable and insisted he had nothing to say, but caved to his teacher's demands... and flat out told the students that War Is Hell and that their teacher was going to send them to their deaths like his class before them.
- Drill Sergeant Nasty: Corporal Himmelstoss, who trained Paul and his friends. Himmelstoss does a Heel Face Turn after having been forced to actually serve in the trenches.
- Dwindling Party: Starts off slow, but picks up the pace near the end.
- Fatal Family Photo: After Paul kills a French soldier, he finds pictures of his wife and daughter (which makes him feel even more guilty).
- Get a Hold of Yourself, Man!: A newbie in the trenches is getting hysterical to the point of trying to leave the bomb shelter. Everybody else in the shelter beats him up until he doesn't try to leave any more. Paul tells us that it's not pleasant, but it's the only thing that helps.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: Tjaden is occasionally described as "delivering the most famous quote from Götz von Berlichingen." Quoting Goethe seems harmless enough, right? Wrong, since the quote in question is: "Er aber, sags ihm, er kann mich im Arsche lecken". This is German for "But he, tell him that, he can lick me inside my arse!"
- Gray and Gray Morality : Full stop.
- 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.
- Humiliation Conga: Himmelstoss gets this early on in the book as revenge for his harsh boot camp rituals.
- If You Die, I Call Your Stuff: A pair of good boots are passed around among the soldiers.
- 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.
- Instant Death Bullet: Averted; a character is shot shot point-blank in the stomach with a flare gun, and he is dying for half an hour "quite conscious and in terrible pain".
- Kill'Em All: Just to drive the point home that war is absurd, unpredictable... and with NO real glory in store for anyone...
- Last-Name Basis
- 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."
- Not Even Bothering with the Accent: In the film, 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.
- Old Soldier: Kat.
- Only a Flesh Wound: Averted hard. 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.
- Peaceful in Death: When Paul dies at the end, his facial expression is described as "calm, as though almost glad the end had come."
- Politically-Motivated Teacher: Kantorek, who encourages his students to join the army, greatly romanticizing it as something glorious. Of course, he couldn't be farther from the truth.
- 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).
- Redshirt 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.
- Serrated Blade of Pain: The narrator mentions that veterans on the front take away from new soldiers any sawtooth bayonets they find on them, as anyone captured with them is killed outright rather than taken prisoner.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: All characters became such people.
- Shovel Strike: The experienced soldiers sharpen their shovels into bladed weapons (a bit like a monk's spade), and use them against anyone who tries to rush their trench. The inexperienced soldiers use their cruddy bayonets in melee and die horribly.
- Soldiers At the Rear: Corporal Himmelstoss.
- Stranger in a Familiar Land: Paul feels like this, when he visits home.
- Title Drop: On the last page. A cable from the High Command stating this is sent, at the end of the war the main character apparently died nearly the last day, like Real Life anti-war British poet soldier Wilfred Owen.
- War Is Hell: The original title is literally "Nothing New in the West". Now think about what happened, the setting, and why there's nothing new.
- Wide-Eyed Idealist: One Mauve Shirt character.