All Quiet on the Western Front
by Erich Maria Remarque
All Quiet on the Western Front Chapter 11 Summary
- Paul waxes about death coming faster, easier, and more terribly now at this stage of the war. The desperate clinging to life gets more intense – men eat faster, more violently and more urgently, as if sucking in every last second before the death that they know will come to them, hits.
- He relates their low resources and frailties to that of "a polar expedition."
- Paul notes how fragile their army has become, how much damage each shell is now able to do to them versus what it was like a year ago.
- He details Detering's story – he went crazy, stealing a cherry blossom to take home. Then he went AWOL (Absent Without Official Leave), was captured, court-martialed, and never heard from again.
- Paul tells of other deaths and injuries. Their front line is no longer "iron" – it is now elastic, with many enemy able to slip through.
- Berger is wounded dies in gruesome fashion. He was sympathetic to a messenger dog that was shot. He wanted to run and euthanize the suffering dog, but the other men warned him not to as it's too dangerous. Berger didn't listen; he ran to shoot the dog, and was shot in the pelvis in the process. The medic that rescued him took a bullet in the cheek.
- Müller is killed with a bullet in the stomach, suffering 30 minutes in huge pain while highly conscious. Before death, he handed Paul his affects. They bury him, but Paul knows that the resting place will soon be disturbed as masses of fresh American and British recruits arrive in droves across the line.
- The troop is emaciated, starving, and sick. Their food is so polluted with germs that they all just learn to live with perpetual dysentery (which causes diarrhea) – "It is not much sense pulling up one's trousers again" (11.33).
- Their artillery is fired out and worn, their horses dead. Kat intones, "Germany ought to be empty soon."
- Morale has turned to misery and Paul talks of giving up hope soon.
- The men lose faith is lost in all authority figures, even in doctors to render fair, human appraisals of the human condition.
- The final stages of the war are symbolized by the newfound tank effort – "The attacking lines of the enemy infantry are men like ourselves; but these tanks are machines, their caterpillars run on as endless as the war […] they roll without feeling" (11.41). In this sense, the machine has won. Dehumanization is almost complete.
- Paul's comment is "Shells, gas clouds, and flotillas of tanks – shattering, starvation, death. Dysentery, influenza, typhus – murder, burning, death. Trenches, hospitals, the common grave – there are no other possibilities" (11.42-4).
- Commander Bertinck dies at the hands of flame-throwers, bravely fighting his way out of a trench, shooting at the enemy through the flames. Even shot, he continues to fire at them.
- The hit flamethrower sinks and Bertinck's flames engulf him.
- Leer dies with a bullet to the chest and "like an emptying tube, after a couple of minutes he collapses" (11.48).
- Paul narrates, "What use is it to him now that he was such a good mathematician at school?"
- Months pass through the summer of 1918 as Paul watches his army slowly annihilated, every man knowing that Germany is losing the war.
- But the generals still push the men to fight.
- Paul repeats three times, as if in a kind of odd prayer, "Summer of 1918," with various descriptive flowery language. He is sensing the demise of the war, of hope, of himself.
- Tons of airplanes now dominate battle. For every German, there are five American and British planes. For every hungry, wretched German are five American fresh faces. Food, hope, clothing, guns all share the same mismatches.
- One day Kat falls, shot in the shin.
- Paul panics, trying to comfort him – but then realizes that the wound is not so bad. Kat is light and Paul determines to carry him to safety.
- Under enormous labor, Paul slings him over his shoulder and carries him for what seems to be miles. They talk as they go, blood dripping from Kat's wounds to the ground in front of Paul as he runs and sweats.
- They rest a few times along the way, feeling their strength dwindle, reflecting on past glories of goose-stealing and Paul's first newbie recruit wound, now three years ago. Paul anguishes at the notion of Kat being "taken from him," the crushing loneliness of that feeling.
- They muse about reconvening during peacetime, what they could do together after the war. Paul can't fathom not seeing him again if Kat is sent home from the war.
- Paul uses that fear to give him strength to carry Kat the rest of the way to the triage area. He falls, setting Kat down. The orderly looks at Paul, panting, and says blankly, "You might have spared yourself that [effort]" (11.87).
- Paul is confused – says that he has just been hit in the shin. The orderly says, "That as well." Paul steps backward and realizes that somewhere along the way on this last run, Kat was shot in the head and is dead.
- Paul stands slowly. The orderly gives him Kat's things.
- Paul can't feel his feet, his emotions seeming to fade away into the drivel of army regulations that categorize this death mechanically.
- He narrates, "Then I know nothing more."
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