All Quiet on the Western Front: Characters & Quotes

Instructor: J.R. Hudspeth

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

Erich Maria Remarque's 'All Quiet on the Western Front' is one of the most famous anti-war novels of all time. Even today, the book holds a special place in literature as a great criticism of World War One and its effects on those who fought in the war. Please read on to learn about some of the major characters and important quotes from the novel!

Movie poster for the 1929 Best Picture winning film adaptation
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Characters

Paul Baümer

Paul is the narrator of the story. He is a nineteen-year-old soldier (at the story's beginning) who becomes more disillusioned with the war as it goes along, and he realizes that even if he manages to live through the fighting, he will be forever changed as a person. At one point, after being injured and going home, he realizes that the people at home see the war as noble and do not understand how the death and destruction are ending the lives of so many men and ruining the lives and psyches of those left alive. Furthermore, he remembers how his teacher at home spoke of the war and participation in it as a moral imperative.

Paul acts as the moral and ethical voice for the characters. He notices the brutality of war, the violence, and the sorry state of the prisoners of war at a nearby camp, and he tells the reader how these experiences have changed him as a person. He also is aware of the mental states of his fellow soldiers and is active at times in helping those soldiers calm themselves. Furthermore, he is critical of the way people back in his hometown, such as his school teachers and other adults, express patriotic fervor regarding the war without understanding the realities of war and its effects on those who fight in it.

Stanislaus 'Kat' Katczinsky

Kat is the oldest member of the group. He has a nose for food, which is scarce during the war, and acts as the wise elder, sharing practical and philosophical observations about the war. Kat often scavenges food and personally takes Paul under his wing on occasion, creating something of a father-son relationship between them.

Fredrich Müller

Müller is a smart young man who dreams of getting back to his life as a physics student after the war; Paul says that Müller actually recites physics equations in the middle of bombings. Müller is forward-thinking and a meticulous planner, often saving food, cigarettes, and other rations for when they might be needed most.

Albert Kropp

Kropp is, like Paul and Müller, nineteen years old to begin the story. Paul identifies him as the 'clearest thinker' of the group. Kropp seems to realize, like Paul, that the war has changed them as humans. He does not think of what he may do when he comes back from the war because he does not have a belief that they will survive the war or that the war will end any time soon. This thoughtfulness spurs some of Paul's own pondering on the war and the ways that he has changed since being called to serve.

Leer

The final young man is Leer. He is also nineteen; as a quartet, Paul and his young friends represent the fresh and hopeful young generation that is destroyed and corrupted by the violence of the war. Leer's death is an example of the wasting of youth on war; it also emphasizes that even the characters that we spend time with and care about are subject to death.

Tjaden

Tjaden is a hot-headed friend of Paul's. He is impulsive, rash, and even seems a bit insensitive (like when he tries to get the boots of Paul's dying friend, Kemmerich). Tjaden also tries to get revenge on Himmelstoss, his old boot camp instructor, for humiliating him and abusing him over his wetting of the bed. However, Tjaden is loyal and ends up leaving the boots to Paul as a show of friendship after Tjaden is mortally wounded.

Haie Westhus

Haie is another young man who has simple dreams of owning a farm after the war. He represents the generally peaceful young person who has life's dreams to achieve, but whose dreams are ended by death in the war.

Himmelstoss

Himmelstoss is the boot camp trainer of a number of the characters in the story. He is a mail-carrier in civilian life, but as an older person, he is promoted in the war to teach the young men that will go into battle. Unfortunately, his method of teaching is to bully and ridicule these young men; he even forces Tjaden, who has a bed-wetting issue, to share bunk beds with another bed-wetter so that they soak one another at night.

Himmelstoss represents an uncaring older generation that sends young men to die; whereas adults like Paul's teacher bully these men into service through the misuse of patriotic rhetoric, Himmelstoss abuses his power and bullies these men to harden them for war.

Erich M. Remarque, author of All Quiet on the Western Front
EMRemarque

Quotes

1. With our young, awakened eyes we saw that the classical conception of the Fatherland held by our teachers resolved itself here into a renunciation of personality such as one would not ask of the meanest servants...We had fancied our task would be different, only to find we were to be trained for heroism as though we were circus ponies.

Paul, speaking here, shares his disillusionment with what adults in his hometown said the war would be - a patriotic and heroic affair - and what it actually is - brutal and dehumanizing. This theme of Paul's generation being lied to by older generations about the glory of war is commonly-emphasized throughout the book.

2. How can a man take all that stuff seriously when he's once been out here?

Kropp makes the above statement during a conversation between the soldiers about going back to school and taking exams once the war is over. It illustrates the nature of war and how it changes people; the young soldiers cannot imagine how they fit into society anymore, having seen the horrors of war. This is a continuing problem even today, with re-integrating soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan into work, school, and home life, and can be thought of as one of the biggest issues (besides death) that a soldier faces when serving in war.

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