Franz Kemmerich in All Quiet on the Western Front

Instructor: Liz Breazeale
Franz Kemmerich, an ill-fated character in Erich Maria Remarque's ''All Quiet on the Western Front'', foreshadows many things to come in the novel. In this lesson, learn about Kemmerich and his impact on other characters in the book.

Who is Franz Kemmerich?

Franz Kemmerich is a short-lived young man from Erich Maria Remarque's novel about World War I, All Quiet on the Western Front. The novel itself proved super controversial after it was published because of its graphic, honest portrayal of trench warfare along the Western Front. The novel addresses the realities of the war and is still considered one of the best anti-war novels ever written.

Franz Kemmerich, or Kemmerich, as he's called by his friends, only appears in the first two chapters of the novel. But his impact is felt for much, much longer. Kemmerich is a young man and a member of Paul, the narrator's, unit in the army. At the beginning of the novel, Kemmerich is dying in the hospital. Kemmerich suffers a terrible injury and loses his leg, dying horribly and painfully at the end of Chapter 2. But Kemmerich's presence means so much more than this.

The novel is a graphic account of trench warfare in World War I
Trench warfare

Kemmerich's Death

The reader isn't really told a whole lot about Kemmerich's personality, and you never really have the chance to get to know him. The two chapters he's in the novel, he's in the hospital and dying a painful death from a wound. He's had his leg amputated but, at first, doesn't notice. Kemmerich is described by Paul as looking childish, boyish even, and this gives you a picture of the young man's innocence. He was a strong athlete in school and let the narrator copy his essays. He even has a mother who embarrassed him as he left for the front, crying and carrying on. You might know what it's like to be embarrassed by your mother, so you can identify with Kemmerich a little bit here.

In Chapter 1, when the boys of his unit visit him, including the narrator, Paul, Kemmerich refuses to let any of them have his boots because he doesn't realize his leg has been amputated, and he also thinks he'll recover. His boots are his most prized possession, and they're fantastic quality. Boots are valuable enough at the front, but to have these would be amazing. But Kemmerich is still boyish and youthful in his hope of recovering from his injuries, and his friends don't have the heart to tell him he's dying.

In direct contrast with his boyishness, Kemmerich realizes by Chapter 2 that his leg has been amputated and that he's going to die. What a horrible realization. He's going to die alone, away from his mother, in an unfamiliar land. He's scared and obviously sad and weeps in his last moments. In fact, Paul sees that when Kemmerich finally passes away, there are still drying tears on his cheeks.

Military hospital from World War I
Military hospital

Aftermath and Importance

Although Kemmerich perishes very quickly in the novel, the aftermath of his passing has a ripple effect for many characters long after Kemmerich is gone, and for the reader as well. For starters, this horrible, agonizing death is the first contact you'll have with death in the novel, and it's the first time Paul has really thought about the deaths of his fellow soldiers. It's the first time he's watched someone he truly cares about die, and you'll be able to see how much it chills him. He comments on how often the orderlies and nurses check on Kemmerich in his dying moments, but not to care for him or comfort him. They only want to see if he's dead and if his body can be removed so they can use his bed for another wounded man. Paul is a bit shocked by this attitude.

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