Metaphor in All Quiet on the Western Front

Instructor: Lauren Posey

Lauren has taught intermediate reading in an English Language Institute, and she has her Master's degree in Linguistics.

One of the most common literary devices authors use is metaphor. In this lesson, you'll learn about metaphor and how it is used in Erich Maria Remarque's novel, ''All Quiet on the Western Front.''


Have you ever seen someone eating really sloppily and said, 'He's such a pig'? Of course you don't mean that person is literally a pig. What you're using here is a metaphor. A metaphor is a form of figurative language where one thing is said to be the same as another thing. In that example, a sloppy eater is said to be the same as a pig. Metaphors are often used to invoke imagery, and to give the listener a clear idea of what you mean in a short sentence. Metaphors are also very common as a literary device. One place we can see examples of this is in Erich Maria Remarque's novel, All Quiet on the Western Front.

Comparisons to a Previous Life

In literature, metaphor can serve a number of purposes. One of these is as a means of comparison. Remarque uses metaphor in his novel to compare the life of a soldier to the lives of the same young men before the war. For example, the narrator, Paul, describes his time in training camp, when the boys were fresh out of school. He says, 'We learned that a bright button is weightier than four volumes of Schopenhauer.'

Of course a button doesn't literally weigh more than four books. Here, metaphor is being used to show how different life in the army is than the school-based life the boys led before. Then, it was books and studying that mattered most. Now, in the army, all that is gone and matters less than having well-polished buttons. By using metaphor, Remarque is able to make all this clear using only a single short sentence.

Impressions of War

Metaphor is also used in the novel to give the soldiers' impressions of the war, and describe some of their experiences out there. Paul talks about one of their excursions to the front saying, 'When Kat stands in front of the hut and says: 'There'll be a bombardment,' that is merely his own opinion; but if he says it here, then the sentence has the sharpness of a bayonet in the moonlight, it cuts clean through the thought…'

Paul compares the statement to a bayonet
German Bayonet

Here Paul uses metaphor to intensify the description of the differences between the front and the war further back. The comparison to the bayonet invokes a violent imagery, which adds to the idea of danger surrounding a bombardment in the first place. In addition, it helps illustrate how much sharper and more alert the soldiers must be at the front than the rear, since everything at the front holds more weight and more danger.

Later, during another stint of time at the front, Paul describes how the soldiers are in the midst of a particularly fierce attack. He says, 'We have become wild beasts. We do not fight, we defend ourselves against annihilation.' Since they have not literally transformed into wild animals, this is a metaphor. It serves to show how instinctual fighting becomes at that level. Strategy and planning don't matter to wild animals, just as they don't matter to the soldiers during the attack. The only thing that matters is surviving, and Remarque clearly indicates this by using metaphor.


While all of these metaphors also function as imagery, some of the metaphors in All Quiet on the Western Front call to mind such a clear picture that they really stand out. One example is in another of the narrator's descriptions of life at the front. He tells us that, 'The front is a cage in which we must await fearfully whatever may happen.'

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