Study Guide

All Quiet on the Western Front Sacrifice

By Erich Maria Remarque


Chapter 1
Paul Bäumer

While they (the pontificating teachers and politicos) continued to write and talk, we saw the wounded and dying. While they taught that duty to one's country is the greatest thing, we already knew that death-throes are stronger. (1.49)

Who sacrificed here? It was the young men, the real people of Germany who gave of themselves for ideals espoused by people who did not actively fight.

Chapter 3
Paul Bäumer

The idea was low but not ill-conceived. Unfortunately it accomplished nothing because the first assumption was wrong: it was not laziness in either of them. Anyone who looked at their sallow skin could see that. The matter ended in one of them always sleeping on the floor, where he frequently caught cold. (3.62)

Even before they go to the front, soldiers sacrifice their health for the sake of duty. What does their "sallow skin" suggest? Why do you think Himmelstoss feels he needs to punish the men so harshly, rather than sending them to seek medical help?

Chapter 7

[Paul's German master:] "Naturally it's worse here. Naturally. The best for our soldiers every time, that goes without saying." (7.163)

We'd like to throttle Paul's German master. We weren't expecting to find such a skewed vision of the war (as reflected in his quote here) in Paul's hometown. Everyone seems to have a different idea of what the war is like and of who is sacrificing what. We suppose that everyone, all across the board, had to give up something for the sake of the war, but (from our humble, reader's perspective) no one seems to endure as much as the soldiers. Where would civilians have gotten their information about the war during this time?

Paul Bäumer

Ah! Mother! I know what these underpants have cost you in waiting, and walking, and begging! Ah! Mother, mother! how can it be that I must part from you? Who else is there that has any claim on me but you? Here I sit and there you are lying, and we have much to say, that we could never say it. (7.277)

When Paul says, "Who else is there that has any claim on me but you," we think he is referring to the powers that be in the German government who compel him to fight for his country. After all that his mother has done and sacrificed in order to raise him and keep him strong, Paul faces the likely possibility of having his life taken from him in the war. This fact makes all of his mother's sacrifices even more monumental.

When my mother says to me "dear boy," it means much more than when another uses it. I know well enough that the jar of whortleberries is the only one they have had for months, and that she has kept it for me; and the somewhat stale cakes that she gives me too. She has taken a favourable opportunity of getting a few and has put them all by for me. (7.126)

This is the only moment in which we get a taste of a kind of sacrifice different from that of soldiers giving up their lives for their country. Paul's mother's sacrifice is born out of love for him, and she sacrifices her rations, her family's own food, for the sake of her son. This kind of love stands out like a neon light in the harsh and violent context of war.

We want to live at any price; so we cannot burden ourselves with feelings which, though they might be ornamented enough in peace time, would be out of place here. (7.6)

The soldiers give up their day-dreaming and their memories of home for the sake of preserving their lives. How would such dreams and memories interfere with their desire to preserve their lives?

Chapter 9
Paul Bäumer

I look at the portraits once more; they are clearly not rich people. I might send them money anonymously if I earn anything later on. I seize upon that, it is at least something to hold onto. This dead man is bound up with my life, therefore I must do everything, promise everything in order to save myself. (9.151)

After nearly going mad staring at a man he has killed with his own hands, Paul regains a sense of composure when he vows to spend the rest of his life making money for the dead man's family. The idea of sacrificing the rest of his life for such a cause brings him peace. This idea of sacrifice is very different from the idea of sacrificing one's life for one's country. In this case, Paul hopes to help bring happiness to his supposed enemy's family.

Albert Kropp

"But what I like to know," says Albert, "is whether there would not have been a war if the Kaiser had said No. […] Well, if not him alone, then perhaps if twenty or thirty people in the world had said No." (9.31-33)

Note that the author has his characters capitalize "No" – like the world is almost holy. The war is painted as a series of catastrophic events, with the focus on many immaterial elements. It's not an accident that, in this same set of discussions, the men talk about whether they go to the bathroom in the same way the Kaiser does: there are common, everyday tasks in which one has no choice but to yield to (like urinating), and there are "higher" tasks in which one does have a choice: saying No to war, for example.

Chapter 10
Paul Bäumer

"How far does the train go?" I ask.

"To Cologne."

"Albert," I say, "we stick together; you see." (10.113-115)

If Paul were to remain on the train, chances are he'd be able to get farther away from the front and closer to home. But he'd rather be with his good friend. He's pretty awesome. The friendships born on the front and among the soldiers are really amazing.

Chapter 11
Paul Bäumer

After a few minutes, I straighten myself up again. My legs and my hands tremble. I have trouble in finding my water bottle, to take a pull. My lips tremble as I try to drink. But I smile – Kat is saved. (11.85)

The tragedy here is that in Paul's trying to save his best friend, nearly sacrificing his own life to get his companion and mentor safely to medical help, the war still finds a way to kill Kat. We can't get over the cold words of the medical attendants, too. What does Paul have if he doesn't have his friends? What can he live for at this point?

When he sees that we cannot escape because under the sharp fire we must make the most of this cover, he takes a rifle, crawls out of the hole, and lying down propped on his elbows, he takes aim. He fires – the same moment a bullet smacks into him, they have got him. (11.47)

We don't see much of the company's commander over the course of the novel, but his final dying act is pretty remarkable. He doesn't die for his country per se, he dies protecting the lives of his men. The men seem to become tighter than family while in the trenches.