Study Guide

All Quiet on the Western Front Mortality

By Erich Maria Remarque

Mortality

Chapter 1
Paul Bäumer

Under the skin the life no longer pulses, it has already pressed out to the boundaries of the body. Death is working through from within. It already has command in the eyes. Here lies our comrade, Kemmerich, who a little while ago was roasting horse-flesh with us and squatting in the shell-holes. He it is still and yet it is not he any longer. (1.72)

Paul personifies death in this moment, making it seem like an all-powerful being that wins over a body. Paul has seen and witnessed so much death in his young life that he knows very certainly that his friend is dying.

Now the trees are green again. Our life alternates between billets and the front. We have almost grown accustomed to it; war is a cause of death like cancer and tuberculosis, like influenza and dysentery. The deaths are merely more frequent, more varied and terrible. (11.1)

What is the difference between war and cancer or tuberculosis or influenza? It seems to us that humans have more control over a war than they have over sickness.

The wisest were just the poor and simple people. They knew the war to be a misfortune, whereas people who were better off were beside themselves with joy, though they should have been much better able to judge what the consequences would be. (1.58)

People with more money have access to more information, so why, our narrator asks, are they so joyful about this war? Paul perhaps suggests that people who are less well off know how hard it is to survive in the world without the help of a war. What examples of money do we see in this novel?

Chapter 4
Paul Bäumer

But the shelling is stronger than everything. It wipes out the sensibilities, I merely crawl still deeper in the coffin, it should protect me, and especially as Death himself lies in it too. (4.88)

Again, Paul personifies death, even choosing to capitalize it. In a way Paul survives by hiding behind death.

Chapter 7
Paul Bäumer

When a man has seen so many dead he cannot understand any longer why there should be so much anguish over a single individual. So I say rather impatiently: "He died immediately. He felt absolutely nothing at all. His face was quite calm." (7.239)

Even though Paul has suffered through many of his compatriots' deaths, and even though he feels deeply every time he sees a dead body, the war has forced him to become hardened to feeling anything. Perhaps he grows impatient at this moment with Kemmerich's mother because he is in danger of being emotionally affected by her grief. If he begins to explore his sadness, he might never recover from it.

Chapter 9
Paul Bäumer

In the branches dead men are hanging. A naked soldier is squatting in the fork of a tree, he still has his helmet on, otherwise he is entirely unclad. There is only half of him sitting up there, the top half, the legs are missing. (9.66)

The soldiers do not just witness death as a result of gun or knife wounds. This is a new kind of war with technology so powerful that one weapon can kill many men at once. Death is redefined by this war.

Chapter 10
Paul Bäumer

Parting from my friend Albert Kropp was very hard. But a man gets used to that sort of thing in the army. (10.236)

Paul is constantly stashing his emotions away. Something tells us that his parting from Kropp is more than just "very hard." There's something very abrupt about the way Paul describes this parting, especially after how hard he fought to stick with Kropp.

Chapter 11
Paul Bäumer

All other expressions lie in a winter sleep, life is simply one continual watch against the menace of death; – it has transformed us into unthinking animals in order to give us the weapon of instinct – it has reinforced us with dullness, so that we do not go to pieces before the horror, which would overwhelm us if we had clear, conscious thought. (11.6)

Do you perceive Paul and his compatriots to be "unthinking animals?" When is Paul writing this account? He must write it as a soldier, and, therefore, he is not an "unthinking animal," but a very reflective human, in our opinion.

Here, on the borders of death, life follows an amazingly simple course, it is limited to what is most necessary, all else lies buried in gloomy sleep; – in that lies our primitiveness and our survival. (11.6)

What is most necessary to the soldiers in this novel? Does Paul refer to death when he speaks of "gloomy sleep" here, or is he referring the dreams and memories that are snuffed out by the troubled sleep that the soldiers get every night? They do not live, they merely survive.