Gerald Duval in All Quiet on the Western Front

Instructor: Lauren Boivin

Lauren has taught English at the university level and has a master's degree in literature.

Gerald Duval is a central figure in one of the most disturbing episodes in Erich Maria Remarque's novel All Quiet on the Western Front. He never says a word, but he has a profound effect on Paul and illustrates some of the novel's most important points.

The Idea of War

''You have to give the Froggies a good hiding,'' an old head master tells Paul when he is home on leave. Paul's dad wants to know if he's ever been in hand-to-hand combat. These men do not know of the gruesome reality of war, which is so well illustrated in Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front. Froggies is a derogatory term for French people. All of this insistence that they must have ''a good hiding'' together with the eager interest in hand-to-hand combat are ignorant and crude when compared with Paul's reality when he is forced to stab Gerald Duval, a Frenchman, to death in a shell hole on the battlefield.

How it Happened

Paul finds himself separated from his battalion in the midst of heavy fire. He seeks shelter in a shell hole. He thinks quickly in order to stay alive. ''I must pretend to be dead,'' he tells himself. Thinking through his survival, he wonders what he should do if someone else jumps into this shell hole. ''If anyone jumps in here I will go for him,'' he resolves, ''stab him clean through the throat, so that he cannot call out; that's the only way.''

Soon, he has to put his plan into action when another man lands on top of him in the hole. ''I do not think at all, I make no decision,''' Paul tells us, ''I strike madly at home...when I recover myself, my hand is sticky and wet.'' No one who has not been in this situation can judge what Paul did here. No one who has not known the terror of battle can understand what survival must have been like. We can, however, mourn with Paul as he struggles with the consequences of what he has done.

Animalistic Terror

Understandably, Paul remains in survival mode at first. The man he has stabbed is not quite dead. He makes a horrible gurgling sound. ''I want to stop his mouth, stuff it with earth, stab him again,'' Paul thinks frantically, ''he must be quiet, he is betraying me.'' Paul is unable to bring himself to harm the man further, though, and instead tries to get as far away from him as possible. He tries not to look at the man. He can see him only ''indistinctly.'' ''With an effort,'' Paul says, ''I look past it and wait.'' At this point, the man is still an abstract object--Paul refers to the man's body as ''it.''

Humanization and Horror

Eventually, after hours in the shell hole with this dying man, Paul says that ''the figure opposite me moves. I shrink together and involuntarily look at it. Then my eyes remain glued to it.'' This is the last time the pronoun ''it'' is used as Paul allows himself to realize: ''A man with a small pointed beard lies there.'' After that Paul switches to the pronoun '''he.'' He observes gradually more detail about the man--the position of his body, the extent of his wounds. ''He is dead,'' Paul tries to tell himself, ''he must be dead, he doesn't feel anything any more.'' But then the man tries to lift his head. There is no denying it. He is alive, he is suffering, and Paul is the cause.

Remorse

Paul gently tries to assure the man that he means him no further harm. He repositions his head and limbs to make him more comfortable. He bandages the man's wounds and pours water into the man's mouth with his own hands. All day they are in the shell hole together--the man, gurgling and groaning and Paul, feeling such regret. ''I would give much if he would but stay alive,'' Paul tells us. Finally, the man dies, and Paul's remorse takes greater hold of him. In death, Paul examines the man more closely. He notices his curly hair, his brown eyes, his soft lips.

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