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Summary

All Quiet on the Western Front Chapter 1 Summary Page 1


  • We are behind the front lines. Paul and his friends have just returned from battle, but they lost almost half of the men in their company to injury or death.
  • The men are starving, and Ginger the cook is shocked to see that so few of the men have survived the battle. He has made dinner for 150 men and only 80 have returned. He has strict orders only to give each man his own little ration, but there's so much extra food.
  • Paul's company commander convinces Ginger to let the men eat as much as they like.
  • We learn more about the soldiers – this group of nineteen-year-old soldiers is in rotation with other companies fighting on the front lines in WWI against French, Russian, British, and American opposition.
  • Katczinsky (a.k.a. Kat) is the 40-year-old leader. He's down to earth and keeps it real.
  • Albert Kropp is the egghead.
  • Müller wants to be an academic.
  • Leer spends his time thinking about women.
  • And Paul Bäumer is our hero and narrator – this is his story.
  • We also meet Tjaden, famous for eating massive amounts of food while remaining skinny. Haie Westhus is a large peat-digging farmer, and Detering just misses home.
  • Ginger, the cook, feeds the hungry men. They don't take their food lightly – it's hard to come by in these parts, and eating is almost a religious experience.
  • Mail arrives and one letter is from Kantorek, this group's schoolteacher back home.
  • They darkly "wish he was here" (1.54) on the Front, getting shot with the rest of them, as he was the one who encouraged the boys to enlist.
  • Kantorek spent many hours presenting "Fatherland Germany" to the naïve young men as an ideal worth dying for. Now that they've actually been on the Front, they realize how ridiculous Kantorek's vision was.
  • Josef Behm fought the propaganda, but was persuaded into enlisting. He died a horrific death.
  • Paul and the others feel completely letdown by Kantorek and everyone like him.
  • The first deaths they saw shattered their boyhood beliefs. Teachers talked philosophy; the enlisted boys died bloody deaths.
  • The troop visits Kemmerich in the hospital.
  • Kemmerich's watch had been stolen when he was unconscious. He complains of pain in his foot – he doesn't realize his leg has been amputated. His friends don't tell him.
  • They covet his soft boots; they want to take them back to the Front. Kemmerich won't let them.
  • Paul, showing his sensitive side, refuses to let the men tell Kemmerich he won't need them – at least not both of the boots – anymore.
  • Of Kemmerich, Paul narrates, "Death is working through from within. It already has command in the eyes" (1.72).
  • Paul recalls Kemmerich's loving mother crying endlessly when her son departed for the war, Kemmerich's being embarrassed by this, and Paul feeling the warmth of that love. Paul notices Kemmerich's filthy hands, which brought back soil from the trenches.
  • Kemmerich's fever begins to take hold of him. The men fetch an orderly who is slow to attend to an enlisted man (Paul and his friends are at the bottom of the military totem pole). Kropp yells, complaining that the orderlies take care of officers' pains quickly (with morphine injections).
  • The men know Kemmerich will die.
  • Paul thinks of the letter he must write Kemmerich's mother about his impending death.
  • Another letter, Kantorek's letter to the troops, praises them as "The Iron Youth" – but the men scoff at any praise from the man they used to respect. And they laugh at being called "youth" – after all they have seen, they now feel old.
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