All Quiet on the Western Front
by Erich Maria Remarque
All Quiet on the Western Front Chapter 9 Summary
- Paul travels back to the Front, asking about Kat and Albert, but nobody has heard of or from them.
- He reports to the Orderly Room and is asked about his leave; the sergeant-major knows the vibe of misery that Paul felt.
- Müller, Tjaden, Kat, and Kropp enter and the group is reunited by Paul's mother's cakes and jams, which are actually good since they're not military issue.
- Paul is informed that they are likely heading into Russia – where there is apparently little fighting going on.
- The men polish and prepare for the journey. The Kaiser himself appears to send them off – all of them are puffed and shiny. Paul notes that the Kaiser looks much smaller in real life than he does in pictures.
- The Kaiser distributes various Iron Crosses and the group, then marches off.
- Tjaden is struck that the Kaiser looks more or less like an ordinary man, and they discuss the belief that the Kaiser puts his pants on one leg at a time, just like they do.
- Albert then brings in the question of the one word "No" versus "Yes" in entering the war. The irony and ambiguity of the reason all of these people are dying is brought forward: "We are here to protect our fatherland. And the French are over there to protect their fatherland. Now, who's in the right?" (9.50)
- The discussion turns to how the war started – one country offends another. Tjaden notes that he personally does not feel offended by France.
- The men talk about the real people who live in the warring countries; they are blacksmiths and shoemakers and laborers…not the politicos and wealth aggregators who are fighting this war ideologically and not with their own blood.
- The war glory of generals enters the conversation, and it becomes clear that there is no single uniting force behind the various wills.
- The men are bummed out by the fact that they must now return their lovely uniforms and go back to their old green drabs, as the uniforms were there just for the Kaiser's inspection.
- Instead of going straight to Russia, the men march through a forest where bodies are dangling from trees and brush. Several are naked, their clothes literally blown off of their bodies by the concussion of bombs.
- Other body parts lay in pieces, literally littering the forest floor. The men determine to report these bodies, many with fresh-dripping blood, to the next stretcher station.
- A patrol is sent to discover the current enemy position, and Paul volunteers to go on it, in part to reconnect with the Front he has been gone from for seven weeks now.
- Machine gun fire makes Paul conscious of keeping down.
- A bomb lands near him, but it has not yet gone off. Paul is paralyzed in fear in the dark, his whereabouts purposefully unknown.
- Images of Russian prisoners run through his head and he sweats. He clings to the earth like a monkey clinging to its mother or a tree, waiting. He ducks to the sound of more missiles going off and then rationalizes that he "has only one life to lose" and blames his leave for his current softness.
- He raises himself and begins to slowly pull himself out of the small shell hole he has been cowering in. He hears voices and recognizes what he believes is Kat, talking and walking along. He is filled with warmth.
- Paul glides over the edge and snakes his way along, but rockets continue to hail around him, peppered with accompanying bullets. He is disoriented and realizes that crawling in the right direction is now a matter of life and death.
- A shell crashes and Paul finds himself in the middle of a large bombardment. Suddenly there is a flash and a clamor and, to his shock, a French soldier jumps into the shell hole in which Paul was crawling.
- Instinctively, Paul pulls out his dagger and, in savage animalistic fury, he stabs the Frenchman as showers of machine gun rattle around him.
- Paul pulls back and hears a gurgling – it is the man, mercilessly still living. Paul feels his heart pounding, ready to spring on him again. But the man is dying.
- Paul can see him only faintly. Almost frozen, Paul stares at him in the trench. The bullets continue around him. Hours pass and morning light comes, but the man is still not dead – he moves.
- The man is lying there with his hand on his chest – he tries to raise his head and Paul feels empathy for the man, lying there with the enemy, waiting for death, suffering.
- Paul drops to his knees, suddenly feeling powerless over the man (Death is the ruler here) and tries to unbutton the man's vest, give him water, save him. The man tries instinctively to defend himself, but he cannot resist.
- The man groans and all Paul can do is wait. It takes hours.
- It's noon and Paul feels like his hunger is eating him. He fetches water for himself and gives some to the dying man.
- This is the first man Paul will have killed with his bare hands; the other men in this troop have already had their first kill, but this was painful for Paul and nothing like what he expected.
- The dying man's every gasp tears through Paul's heart, stabbing him with an invisible dagger. Paul would give much to let this man stay alive.
- By about 3pm, though, the man is finally dead.
- Paul breathes freely again, but, for the first time truly studies the man's face and all that is implied by his person. He thinks about the man's wife, who will never know how exactly her husband was killed.
- Paul's emotional state gets worse – he wants to know all about this man, his family, his children, what he can do now.
- He confesses to the corpse, "Comrade, I did not want to kill you […] you were only an idea to me before, an abstraction […] that called forth its appropriate response. It was that abstraction I stabbed. But now I see you are a man like me" (9.145).
- Paul begs forgiveness and offers twenty years off his life if the corpse will come to life. (Note that Paul doesn't plea to God here.)
- Finally, things are quiet on the Front. And calming down, Paul promises to write the man's wife. He takes the man's wallet, opens it, and learns about the man who has a wife and a little girl he will never see again.
- And Paul learns the man he killed was a printer named Gerard Duval.
- The day passes by and Paul calms down.
- Paul is exhausted and hungry and beginning to tremble with fear and fatigue. He knows he must creep back to camp, but is worried that his own comrades will mistake him for the enemy and shoot him.
- He calls out and there is silence. Nobody replies. Paul crawls out of the shell hole in which he made his first kill and, by luck, Paul sees something move in the wire that they laid previously. It is Kat and Albert, who have come out with a stretcher to look for him.
- They are shocked that he is not wounded. Paul does not mention Gerard that night. He feeds himself and sleeps.
- In the morning, he cannot hold it in any longer. His friends comfort him; Albert tells him he did the right thing. And Paul tells them that he doesn't understand what happened.
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