Study Guide

All Quiet on the Western Front Innocence

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Chapter 1
Paul Bäumer

Yesterday we were relieved, and now our bellies are full of beef and haricot beans. We are satisfied and at peace. Each man has another mess-tin full for the evening; and, what is more, there is a double ration of sausage and bread. That puts a man in fine trim. (1.1)

Is there an innocence to the way the soldiers live (despite the fact that they deal with death so frequently)? In this description we see how fully they take pleasure in something as simple as food.

These are wonderfully care-free hours. Over us is the blue sky. On the horizon float the bright yellow sunlit observation-balloons, and the many little white clouds of the anti-aircraft shells […] we hear the muffled rumble of the front only as a very distant thunder, bumble-bees droning by quite drown it. Around us stretches the flowery meadow. The grasses sway their tall spears; the white butterflies flutter around and float on the soft warm wind of the late summer. We read letters and newspapers and smoke. (1.46)

At a moment like this, the soldiers find themselves in a kind of protected paradise. Nature imagery figures largely throughout the novel, and we especially see this imagery in this moment. They are detached from the unnatural workings of war, and are surrounded by buzzing life.

Iron Youth. Youth! We are none of us more than twenty years old. But young? Youth? That is long ago. We are old folk. (1.106)

Does Paul seem like a twenty-year-old? When in the novel does he seem older or younger?

Chapter 2
Franz Kemmerich

[Kemmerich] raises himself on the pillow with his elbows. "They have amputated my leg." (2.19)

Kemmerich doesn't realize that they have amputated his leg at first, but discovers this fact over the course of his recovery. Whether he is protected from this news by the hospital attendants intentionally or not, the discovery of his missing leg is a huge blow. We see Albert Kropp deal with a similar situation later on in the novel. Many men would rather die than lose a limb.

Chapter 3
Paul Bäumer

I nod. We stick out our chests, shave in the open, shove our hands in our pockets, inspect the recruits and feel ourselves to be stone-age veterans. (3.2)

We feel like Paul and his compatriots are constantly losing a layer of innocence with each event and each experience they endure over the course of the novel. When compared with their selves at the end of the novel, these "stone-age veterans" seem like puppies, young and sprightly.

Chapter 4
Paul Bäumer

Beside us lies a fair-headed recruit in utter terror. He has buried his face in his hands, his helmet has fallen off. I fish hold of it and try to put it back on his head. He looks up, pushes the helmet off and like a child creeps under my arm, his head close to my breast. The little shoulders heave. (4.48)

This new recruit makes us realize just how brave Paul and his compatriots are. If we were thrown into this trench, we would probably do exactly what this young recruit is doing. We are reminded at this moment of just how young these men are.

I don't know whether it's morning or evening. I lie in the pale cradle of the twilight, and listen for the soft words which will come, soft and near – am I crying? I put my hand to my eyes, it is so fantastic; am I a child? (4.43)

Sleep is the only thing powerful enough to make the soldiers forget where they are. This is a heartbreaking moment in which the rockets overhead seem almost like fireworks to a newly wakened Paul.

Chapter 5
Paul Bäumer

He is right. We are not youth any longer. We don't want to take the world by storm. We are fleeing. We fly from ourselves. From our life. We were eighteen and had begun to love life and the world; and we had to shoot it to pieces. The first bomb, the first explosion, burst in our hearts. We are cut off from activity, from striving, from progress. We believe in such things no longer, we believe in war. (5.121)

Growing up is very much about striving and dreaming and thinking about the future. Is it that the soldiers no longer "want to take the world by storm," or is it that they have no choice but to believe only in war? What does Paul mean to fly from oneself? What would happen if the soldiers did not fly from themselves?

Chapter 6
Paul Bäumer

We are forlorn like children, and experienced like old men, we are crude and sorrowful and superficial – I believe we are lost. (6.105)

This last line makes us think of the Lost Generation, or the name given to those who came of age during World War I. Earnest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Gertrude Stein were writers who helped give voice to this generation.

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