All Quiet on the Western Front
by Erich Maria Remarque
Tools of Characterization
Food is life in All Quiet on the Western Front. The author spends a bunch of time describing the process of finding food, cooking it, eating it, and expelling it. Paul and his buddies tend to eat pretty well because they are clever, and under Kat's guidance they are able to find extra supplies. These soldiers love to eat, and food sustains them. At times, Paul and his friends eat better than anyone else in the novel.
Some characters deny themselves food. For example, Kemmerich, on his deathbed, refuses to eat the delicious hospital food, so heartbroken is he over his amputated leg. Similarly, Paul's mother sacrifices her rations and her delicacies so that her son might be strong. She too is sick. When characters give up food in this novel, they are often giving up on their lives.
Those officers who rank higher on the army ladder tend to be less cool. For example, Himmelstoss is in charge of training Paul and his compatriots when they enlist for the war. He makes their lives a living hell, dealing unjust and undeserved punishments (like cleaning the mess hall with a toothbrush). He abuses his power. Paul and his fellow soldiers may be low on the totem pole, but they constantly deal with life in honorable ways. Paul comforts Kemmerich upon his deathbed, sticks with Albert Kropp when he is wounded, and carries Kat to a triage area. There are some exceptions to this idea of rank, however. Bertinck, the company commander, dies saving his men, while Müller (a regular enlistee) demonstrates less than stellar character as he longs for a dying man's boots, rather than comfort the dying man.
The more educated characters in this novel (like Kantorek, Paul's German master, and Paul's principal) tend to be totally ignorant of the realities of life and war. For example, when Paul returns home for his leave, he comes across his former principal who tells him that the civilians suffer more than the soldiers do, soldiers who he believes to be living in the lap of luxury. When Paul attempts to correct him, his principal dismisses him, saying that a soldier can only see the details of a war, not the big picture.
On the other hand, good instincts and natural intuition (and the education gained by experience) are quite valued by the soldiers. It is this kind of education that allows Paul and his buddies to eat better (freshly cooked goose!) and to stay alive longer.