All Quiet on the Western Front Chapter 1 Summary

Instructor: J.R. Hudspeth

Jackie has taught college English and Critical Thinking and has a Master's degree in English Rhetoric and Composition

Chapter One of Erich Maria Remarque's famed anti-war novel 'All Quiet on the Western Front' introduces us to a German soldier named Paul Baumer and Paul's fellow soldiers. Read on for a short summary of the first chapter!

What's Going On? All Quiet On The Western Front

The novel starts in the middle of World War I and recounts the life of German soldier Paul Baumer. The Germans are losing the war at this point; and because of rapid technological advances that the leaders of the war are slow to properly respond to, people are dying in higher numbers than in any previous war. By the end of the war, full generations of men in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, and other countries will be nearly wiped out. Paul narrates the novel from a first-person perspective, 'which allows us inside his head to experience the war through his eyes', and shares his experience and insight about the war.

Food for the Whole Company

Paul introduces himself by being happy about the amount of food and rations that he and his fellow soldiers have been able to get from the cook for their company, a group of soldiers of around one hundred to two hundred people. The company went out for battle earlier that week and over half of them were killed in the fighting; when they return from the front lines of the war, they find that the cook has made enough food for the whole company including those who have been killed.

The cook (named Ginger) is stingy. He uses his power to refuse to feed the men the extra food at first. Paul and his friends Katczinsky, Muller, Tjaden, Albert Kropp, Haie Westhus, and Detering all protest that they should be allowed to eat the food. Eventually, the leader of the company comes by and allows the men to have all of the food for themselves against Ginger's wishes. Ginger even throws in extra supplies on top of the food out of spite.

A modern day company of United States soldiers. A company is about one hundred to two hundred people; half of the company that Paul is in was wiped out in Chapter One of the novel.

The Youth of Germany

Paul's thoughts return to the current day. Though Paul and his friends are happy at the moment, they've only received their food because so many of their fellow soldiers died. However, Paul and his friends are happy; they move away from the company to eat and play cards in a field, enjoying each other and being thankful for what they have. They are so close that they do not even feel embarrassment to use the restroom in the open near one another; Paul thinks that after all that they have gone through in the war, little things like that which would embarrass other people do not have any importance to them anymore.

Eventually, after playing a few rounds of cards and napping, they decide to go see a fellow injured soldier, Kemmerich, in the hospital tent. Kropp also mentions that a former teacher, Kantorek, has sent his best wishes, but Muller blows off Kantorek's letter. Paul explains why: Kantorek used his position of influence as their teacher to convince, bully, and threaten them to go to war. Kantorek presented war as a way to win glory for the country, but what Paul and his friends found was violence and death. Paul explains that the young soldiers feel misled and mistreated by the older generations. German youths were compelled to put their necks on the line for a war that turned out to be devastating while the older generation stayed back at home and continued to be patriotic, from safety far away from the front lines.

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