All Quiet on the Western Front Chapter 2 Summary

Instructor: J.R. Hudspeth

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

In Chapter 2 of 'All Quiet on the Western Front', Paul thinks about how the war, which is killing his friends, has changed his future and his perspective on life. Read on for a short summary of the second chapter of the novel!

Previously in All Quiet on the Western Front

We are introduced to the German soldier's experience in World War I. That experience is shared through the eyes of Paul Baumer. Paul and his fellow young soldiers feel abused and misled by the older generations who are running the war and who have convinced them that there would be glory in warfare. Instead, the young soldiers must deal with superiors who abuse their power and the violent deaths of many of their friends, such as Paul's friend Kemmerich, who is dying in the hospital tent with a leg wound.

Before the War

Paul begins the second chapter by thinking about what his life was like before he went to war. He remembers writing poetry in his room, but feels that his 'early life is cut off from the moment we came here.' He believes that the war has changed him so much that he does not resemble the same person from before the war at all.

Paul recalls an old teacher who convinced him to go to war named Kantorek. He thinks that it would be easier to go to war for an older man such as Kantorek because 'they have wives, children, occupations, and interests...a background which is so strong that the war cannot obliterate it.' On the other hand, the young men never had a chance to build their own careers and families; they have nothing except for the war that has killed so many of them.

Paul voices how disconnected the younger men feel from their homes and lives since they have little to hold on to. With nothing left to cling to at home, all the young men at war can think about is the war and how to survive it. Paul's friend Kemmerich is dying of a leg wound and, even if he survives, has lost his leg. While Kemmerich is dying, all one of Paul's friends named Muller can think of is how to get Kemmerich's boots, which are nice and new. The war completely defines this younger generation's thoughts and actions.

Boot Camp Blues

Paul thinks about how proud the young men were to enlist in the army at the beginning. Their ideas of war were romantic; they thought of war as it might be depicted in a movie or a video game like Call of Duty. They believed that they would go to war and come back heroes, ready to resume their lives. Those ideas were encouraged by the older generation who had convinced them to go and fight. However, Paul says that their desire to fight for their country was taken away from them by the very same older generation once they enlisted for training to go to the front lines.

Corporal Himmelstoss was the trainer of Paul and some of his friends, and Paul remembers his cruelty. Himmelstoss is another example of a military leader who abuses his power. Paul recalls that Himmelstoss had them clean and re-clean Himmelstoss's boots with a toothbrush, clean their training area of snow with a small broom and dustpan in the freezing cold, and spend hours dropping and rolling in the mud before being sent home bruised and tired to clean their dirty clothes for review.

Paul and the other young men do small things to fight back against Himmelstoss's bullying. In one combat training, Himmelstoss abuses the men until Paul runs at him and knocks him down; in another example, Himmelstoss taunts Paul and his friend Kropp as the two young men toss out a bucket full of waste, so the men accidentally-on-purpose dump it on Himmelstoss.

Even so, Himmelstoss has more power than them and makes their lives miserable. He is one of the first of the older generation to betray Paul and his fellow young soldiers. Paul says that the only good thing about the horrible training experience is that it bonded the soldiers who had to go through it together into close friendship.

Boots are important in the novel. Himmelstoss abuses his young trainees by making them clean his boots over and over, and Kemmerich passes his boots along to Muller before he dies in a sign of his acceptance that he will soon pass away.

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