All Quiet on the Western Front
All Quiet on the Western Front
by Erich Maria Remarque

All Quiet on the Western Front Plot Analysis

Most good stories start with a fundamental list of ingredients: the initial situation, conflict, complication, climax, suspense, denouement, and conclusion. Great writers sometimes shake up the recipe and add some spice.

Initial Situation

Paul and his friends are on break from the Front. They have a massive feast. The horrors of the war have not yet sunk in.

Paul is "stable," having returned from the Front in a battle that took 70 of the 150 soldiers that first went to fight. He is relatively new to the war. He has small resentments against those who encouraged him to enlist and those who belittled him in his basic training, but he is generally hopeful in his approach to the war. The brutalities have not yet seeped under his skin.

Conflict

Paul's good friend and fellow soldier, Kemmerich, dies a slow death. He begins to see what the war will entail.

Paul has his first real encounter with death as his friend Kemmerich dies in the hospital. The finality of that close death makes the war suddenly real to Paul. He wrestles with opposing forces of hope and despair, as he grows from naïve child to wizened "old folk," encountering many life-or-death situations along the way. He feels more and more alienated from what he used to call "home" and the innocent boy he used to be.

Complication

Paul becomes a machine in order to cope with the war.

Paul begins to learn how to navigate the bullets, bombs, and blasts with ease – but he must pay a price in losing his feeling and his humanity. In order to survive in a mechanized killing environment, Paul must become mechanized himself. His ideology and identity, are put on the line. He begins to define "home" as the Front, not as the house in which he was raised.

Climax

Paul decides that the war is meaningless and that he and his friends are risking their lives for nothing.

Paul realizes that all his best efforts and hard work are useless. The Germans will lose the war; his friends will die; he will die. He gives in to the feeling of being an automaton, carrying out his day.

Suspense

Paul kills a man with his bare hands.

Paul decides to volunteer for a reconnaissance mission, his first solo job. He actively puts himself in danger, almost without a thought. During this mission, he makes his first hand-to-hand kill, a French soldier with a family. The man's slow death in front of Paul's eyes takes Paul further down the path to where dying is an upgrade to his quality of life.

Denouement

Paul carries his best friend, Kat, to safety, only to have him die in transit.

Paul's last remaining friend dies – Kat is shot in the head while Paul carries him to a makeshift hospital after a shin wound. With Kat gone, Paul has little left to live for.

Conclusion

Paul dies.

Paul's death is painted as a calming relief. It's a sad day when death is an upgrade.

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