Study Guide

Tjaden in All Quiet on the Western Front

By Erich Maria Remarque

Tjaden

Revenge Is A Dish Best Served Cold

When we first meet Tjaden, he's in ecstasy over the excess food rations made available by the death of so many soldiers. This scene underlines a couple of key facets of Tjaden's character: he's a pragmatist and a hedonist, someone whose huge appetites allow him to get through the psychological horrors of war. (He's the guy who has the bright idea try to seduce some French women with a meal of army rations, after all: the guy knows that pleasure can alleviate fear, albeit briefly.)

That's not to say that Tjaden plays the hear-no-evil, see-no-evil game when it comes to the war, though. Just check out this exchange:

"Then what exactly is the war for?" asks Tjaden.

Kat shrugs his shoulders. "There must be some people to whom the war is useful."

"Well, I'm not one of them," grins Tjaden.

"Not you, nor anybody else here." (9.51-54)

That's our Tjaden: a guy who's able to ask the Big Questions...and then crack a smile when the answers are depressing.

Tjaden is also characterized by his uniquely strong defiant streak—he detests the abuse of authority and he clashes regularly with commandant Himmelstoss. There's a good reason for this: Himmelstoss humiliates Tjaden during basic training, because Tjaden has a problem with bed-wetting.

Once both of them are sent to the Front, however, Tjaden concocts a scheme to get even with Himmelstoss: he ambushes Himmelstoss when he's stumbling back from a pub, yanks down his pants, and whips his bare butt. Later, Tjaden tells Paul that the "thrashing was the high-water mark of his life" (5.5) and that he often dreams of it.

Then, when Himmelstoss accosts the group sitting in a field, Tjaden doesn't stand or salute. He does, however, tell Himmelstoss that he's a dirty hound (we guess that was a bad thing in the early 1900's) and then farts at him. This little display of (hilarious) disrespect gets Tjaden court-martialed.

But Tjaden has the last laugh. In the field tribunal, Tjaden speaks freely about Himmelstoss' abusive behavior during basic training. The judge, one of the few rational authority figures in the book, gives a much-reduced sentence and a wrist-slap to Himmelstoss:

He understands it all right though, and lectures Himmelstoss, making it plain to him that the front isn't a parade-ground. (5.149)

Tjaden's story ends a little differently than the rest of his friends' do...he doesn't die. (At least in this novel. We guess everyone dies eventually...)

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