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All Quiet on the Western Front

Author: Erich Maria Remarque

Genre: Biography/Autobiography

Year: 1929

Characters: Paul Baumer, Leer, Kat, Himmelstoss, Franz Kemmerich, Albert Kropp

Description:

Author/Context

Erich Maria Remarque was born June 22nd, 1898, in the northwestern German city of Osnabruck. His parents named him Erich Paul Remark. His family was very poor, and they moved often. At a young age, Erich was forced to earn money to buy his own clothes by giving piano lessons. He was a lover of art, writing, music, and nature.

At the age of 18, while at teacher's college, he was drafted to fight in World War I. He was trained and placed in a battalion. Unlike his character Paul, he was frequently granted leave to care for his dying mother. While a solider, he fought bravely, but became extremely disheartened with the war when a friend whom he had rescued died in the hospital from grenade splinters in his head that no one had noticed. Erich spent some time in the hospital himself, and then more had training. His mother died while he was in the hospital. In a tribute to her, he replaced his middle name, Paul, with hers, Maria. By the war's end, he had become a strong opponent of back-line patriots who did not understand the evils of war, and frequently came into conflict with leaders in his town about the war's outcome.

He began a career as a teacher and writer, but his work was not well received. His first novel was such an embarrassment that he changed the spelling of his last name from Remark to Remarque. In 1929, he published All Quiet On The Western Front, which was an effort to rid himself of the depression that his war experiences gave him. It became one of the highest-selling books in Europe.

It is important to note that All Quiet On The Western Front's important moments are all autobiographical, but the novel is not pure autobiography. The sick mother, the time in the hospital, and the loss of a friend due to unnoticed splinters in the head, all point to an author who was trying to rid himself of the memories of war that haunted him. In writing it, he made a statement about his hatred of war by showing the reader the experiences that led him to his anti-war beliefs.

All Quiet On The Western Front was banned by the German government. Erich himself was persecuted by the Nazis and then forced into exile, first in Switzerland, and then America, where he became friends with famous actors, actresses, and writers, including Charlie Chaplin and Ernest Hemingway. He wrote several more books over the next few years. He died in Switzerland in 1970.

Major Characters

Paul Baumer: The narrator of the book. Paul is a young solider who witnesses and reports the horrors of World War One and how it changes him forever. The story follows Paul at the front, in camp, on leave, in training, and in the hospital.

Albert Kropp: Paul's clear-thinking classmate and best friend from school. He is Paul's closest friend next to Kat. He loses his leg due to an injury, and is hospitalized at the same place Paul is.

Muller: The scientist of the group, who still studies and thinks about physics during battles. He's somewhat rude. He takes Kemmerich's boots after Kemmerich dies.

Tjaden: A tiny locksmith with a huge appetite who eats all the time. More than any of the others, he hates Himmelstoss with a passion and can't wait for revenge against him.

Haie Westhus: A giant boy about 19, he is a peat-digger by trade. He is Kat's main helper.

Katczinsky: The old man of Paul's company and his closest friend, Kat teaches all the young men how to survive. He is the older soldier who can get anything at the drop of a hat.

Kemmerich: Paul's classmate who dies in the hospital. Paul feels responsible for him and must tell his mother of his death.

Himmelstoss: The cruel man who trained them when they enlisted. When he is sent to the front, his first fight teaches him a lesson and he is much nicer to the men after that.

Minor Characters

Ginger: The company cook. Ginger tries to be in control and bossy about the food, but the men have no respect for him and mock him.

Leer: Paul's rude, crass classmate, who talks about sex a lot. He is the most experienced of Paul's friends. He is killed by the same shell as Bertink.

Detering: A peasant farmer, he misses his farm more than anything. Ultimately, this leads to him deserting, but he is captured and court-martialed.

Kantorek: Paul's old school teacher, who convinced the boys to sign up. He is made fun of because his patriotism is blind to the horrors of war. Later in the book, he becomes a soldier and his own student bosses him around.

Joseph Behm: A classmate who is bullied by Kantorek into joining the army, and dies almost immediately in combat.

Bertink: The Company Commander of the Second Company, Paul's company. Bertink is a smart, brave soldier who understands his men.

Sister: Paul's sister, who is caring for their sick mother.

Mother: Dying of cancer, she worries about Paul from her sick-bed. She is the only person who doesn't ask Paul for details about the war.

Father: Paul's father is proud of him, and tries to get Paul to tell him war stories, much to Paul's annoyance. He is hard working, but very poor, and must work extra hard to pay Paul's mother's hospital bills.

Mittelstaedt: Paul's friend who is stationed back in his home town and gets to boss Kantorek around.

Josef: The man with the shooting license in the hospital. He is a little crazy, but knows a lot about hospital life, because he has been there so long.

Peter: The man who tries to avoid going to the dying room and succeeds, surviving through force of will.

Lewandowski: An older man in Paul's hospital room. He has sex with his wife when she visits.

Bibliography

Remarque, Erich Maria. All Quiet on the Western Front. Trans. by A.W. Wheen. New York. Fawcett Crest, 1929.

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