Study Guide

All Quiet on the Western Front Rats and Spades

Rats and Spades

The Infamous Carbo-Loading Rats of WWI

No one likes rats…with the exception of that Great American hero, Pizza Rat. But there's a world of difference between a subway-dwelling rodent with a love of classic NYC slices and Oscar, the bread-munching rat that hangs out with our soldiers.

Oscar chews on a piece of the soldiers' bread, and Kat throws his shoe at the little beastie. While Kat tosses the bread aside, Tjaden retorts:

"Don't be so snooty. You may wish you had this back. About two more days of this and this rat-bitten end of a piece of bread's gonna taste just like a hunk of fruitcake."

We don't think of rats as being so brazen about snatching food from people (Pizza Rat probably just found his slice in a trashcan), but in the trenches, the humans have entered the rats' world…and we don't mean a magical Secret of NIMH-type world either. It's the world of survival—kill or be killed; eat or be eaten.

Later, the men are starving and Kat returns from foraging with stale bread and no butter—the same food, you'll note, that Oscar foraged from the soldiers earlier. Rats come pouring into their dugout and the soldiers begin killing them with their spades. Immediately afterward, the Allied offensive starts, and we see the soldiers fighting in the trenches. They use all manner of hand-to-hand weapons to kill each other, including the same spades they used to kill the rats.

The contrast shows us the equalizing of man and beast as a result of the war. Both live in holes; both forage for food; both fight, kill, and bite to survive. The film suggests that we shouldn't talk about "dogs of war" so much as "rats of war."