All Quiet on the Western Front Chapter 4 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 4 of ''All Quiet on the Western Front,'' the men go to the front lines and attempt to survive a bloody attack on their position. Read on for a brief summary of the experiences of Paul and his fellow soldiers!

Previously in All Quiet on the Western Front

Paul and his fellow soldiers, after coming back from a battle that wiped out half their company, spend time talking about the war and how poorly they believe that it is being run. Paul thinks often about his life before the war and visits a fellow soldier who eventually passes away from his wounds.

To the Front Lines

Late one night, Paul and his friends go to the front lines of the war. They must put wire up around the trenches, which are long, narrow ditches the soldiers use for shelter during the fighting. The road is bumpy and dark, and the men would prefer falling from the truck and breaking a bone so they can go home rather than reach their destination. Any patriotism they may have had at the beginning of the war has been destroyed.

At the front lines, gun smoke and powder from bombs is heavy in the air. With his keen ear, Kat recognizes the sound of geese (potential food) and a coming bombardment (which brings with it injuries and even death). The men are restless, though the soldiers who have never been to the front show fear. Paul thinks that the front changes everything and makes them more tense; for example, Kat speaking the word 'bombardment' at the front line sounds more terrifying than it would if he were saying it back at camp.

Paul thinks about how much the earth itself means to soldiers because they use it to help build the trenches and because it can be the only thing between a soldier and a bullet. Paul's thoughts become more animalistic. He can think only of survival, and he relies on his instinct to throw himself to the ground and be protected by it in order to live.

Paul and his fellow soldiers at the front lines hide themselves in trenches like the one pictured above, which is an actual German trench from World War I.
trenches

Bombardment

Eventually, the men reach the trenches at the very front of the war and settle in. Above them, planes fight and anti-aircraft guns shoot down enemies. The men begin to set up wiring to help support the trenches in the midst of the fighting. They eventually finish the work, but the trucks that will return them back to camp are not due for a few hours, so they attempt to settle in to the trenches and get some sleep.

Suddenly, a rocket lands behind the trench and scares the newer soldiers. Paul and the other soldiers try to crawl to safety in their trenches as the enemy shoots rockets at them. Paul hears two men cry out and sees one young new soldier who has broken down mentally. The soldier is on his knees, his head buried in his arms and his behind sticking up. Paul, who feels pity for this soldier -- who reminds him of his deceased friend Kemmerich -- takes the young man's helmet and puts it on his bottom in order to protect him from being shot there.

The enemy stops firing rockets momentarily, but Paul recognizes that the rockets were just the beginning of the bombardment. He helps the scared young soldier, who in his fear has made a mess in his pants, find a place to dump them. Then, he waits for the attack to begin again. Paul's actions toward the young soldier are an example of how the horror of the war at least bands together the soldiers in friendship.

Wounded Horses

While the attack is at a lull, the men can hear the cries of horses who have been hit by rockets. The cries of the horses are so loud and painful that Detering, a soldier who is a farmer in peace-time and who loves horses, begins to have an emotional breakdown. He cries out many times, asking someone to shoot the horses so that they will not be in pain anymore, and then he almost leaves the trench to do it himself before Kat stops him.

Eventually, medics come with a few men to shoot the horses, many of which stumble around in pain before dying. This scene is described in full by Paul to show how many innocent animals as well as humans are destroyed by warfare and to get across just how terrible and painful the violence of war actually is.

The terrible cries of wounded horses drive the soldiers to emotional crisis.
horse

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