Study Guide

All Quiet on the Western Front Chapter 2

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Chapter 2

  • Paul thinks about the play he was writing (ironically about a Biblically named character, wise Saul) – it is peacefully lying in his bedroom drawer.
  • He philosophizes about the separation of his early life and what he is experiencing now. He know that even those who physically survive the war cannot go back.
  • Paul notes the rootlessness of their existence now and says, "We have become a waste land."
  • The narrator describes Müller's hunger for Kemmerich's boots. Müller isn't a monster; he's just an efficient animal, taking advantage of opportunities in a world of limited resources.
  • Paul remembers going to the enlisting agency. Back then he had no thoughts of the future, of any future. His vision then was romantic. He cared greatly for Schopenhauer, Plato, Goethe, and math.
  • He contemplates the irony of an uneducated postman having authority over him and his mates who are vastly better-read.
  • The classical conception of Fatherland allowed Paul, and other young men like him, to "renounce" their individual personalities, subsumed to The Great Good. They were sure they were being trained for heroism in the classic sense of the word.
  • Kropp, Müller, Kemmerich, and Paul were sent to Platoon 9, under Himmelstoss the postman.
  • The postman had a reputation as being the strictest boot camp trainer and was proud of that rep.
  • He was short but always trying to prove that he was in charge, which the narrator jokes about, wondering, "Why is it always the small ones who treat people this way?"
  • Himmelstoss could sense the group's defiance and tried to be overly harsh with them, in order to brutalize them into submission.
  • Paul had to remake his bed fourteen times one morning.
  • He also had to knead "prehistoric boots" that were "hard as iron" for twenty hours.
  • Himmelstoss uses a variety of get-tough-disciplinary measures, like making Paul scrub the latrine (toilet) with a toothbrush.
  • (However, these activities seem like a day at Disneyland compared to what Paul has already gone through at the Front at this point in the story.)
  • One day (by accident?) Paul and Kropp drop a latrine bucket on Himmelstoss.
  • When Himmelstoss forces them to do many drills, they accommodate – but slowly – in passive-aggressive resistance, which drives Himmelstoss crazy.
  • We're told that there were other Himmelstosses – many better men – but all wanting to just keep their jobs so that they didn't get sent to the Front.
  • Troop 9 was given many maddening, awful jobs, many dangerous – but Paul notes that, in hindsight, had they not been so frustrated and angered, they wouldn't have survived even a short time on the Front.
  • The stress gave them "esprit de corps" or "comradeship."
  • While he recalls these things, Paul sits by Kemmerich's bed. Kemmerich is dying fast.
  • Kemmerich has now discovered that they amputated his leg. He is really depressed.
  • Paul points out ways it might have been worse – Kemmerich now gets to go home. Kemmerich turns away and mumbles that he wanted to be a forester, but now with only one leg he can't.
  • Paul counters that there are artificial limbs.
  • There's a pause.
  • Kemmerich then offers his boots to Müller (signaling his acceptance of impending death.)
  • Paul says, "I nod and wonder what to say to encourage him. His lips have fallen away, his mouth has become larger, his teeth stick out and look as though they were made of chalk. The flesh melts, the forehead bulges more prominently, the cheek-bones protrude. The skeleton is working itself through. The eyes are already sunken in. In a couple of hours it will be over" (2.34). (Notice here how Paul disassembles Kemmerich here, remarking about "the" eyes, not "his" eyes.)
  • Paul notes he has seen this in others. He thinks about the boys' bodies under the soldier uniforms.
  • Paul is astonished that no one in the hospital is grieving Kemmerich as he is. He wants the nurses, doctors, patients, and orderlies passing by to say, "That was Franz Kemmerich, nineteen and a half years old, he doesn't want to die. Let him not die!" (2.36)
  • Paul watches Kemmerich sink further into death.
  • Kemmerich asks Paul to send home his watch if he ever finds it.
  • Hospital orderlies want Kemmerich's bed for other wounded soldiers, almost hurrying him to die.
  • Paul tries to inspire Kemmerich to hang on by imagining his recovery.
  • But Kemmerich is too far gone.
  • He cries. Silently. An hour passes with Kemmerich just crying. Suddenly he groans and convulses.
  • Paul tries to get a doctor, who unloads Paul to the orderly.
  • Paul is angry that Kemmerich is just one of so many other wounded men that the doctor doesn't even recall which patient he is.
  • And then Kemmerich is dead, his face still wet with tears.
  • The orderlies clear out the bed to make room for others.
  • Paul takes Kemmerich's identification disc and belongings.
  • Strikingly, Paul moves outside where the dark and cold accost his face in stark contrast to the septic vibe of the hospital.
  • He runs, feeling the pressures on his feet; Paul still has two.
  • He gives Kemmerich's boots to Müller. They fit.
  • Paul takes some of Müller's candies as payment for delivery.

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