All Quiet on the Western Front

Main characters

Paul Bäumer

Paul Bäumer is the main character and narrator. At 18 years of age, Paul enlists in the German Army and is deployed to the Western Front where he experiences the severe psychological and physical effects of the war. Before the war, Paul was a creative, sensitive and passionate person, writing poems and having a clear love for his family. But as the war changed his attitude and personality, poems and other aspects of his past life become something Paul was no longer linked to, since the horrors of war trained him to disconnect himself from his feelings. He feels he can't tell anyone about his experiences, and feels like an outsider where his family is concerned.

By the end of the book, Paul realises that he no longer knows what to do with himself and decides that he has nothing more to lose. The war appears to have snuffed out his hopes and dreams, which he feels he can never regain. After years of fighting, Paul is finally killed in October 1918, on an extraordinarily quiet, peaceful day. The army report that day contains only one phrase: “All quiet on the Western Front.” As Paul dies, his face is calm, “as though almost glad the end had come."

Albert Kropp

Kropp was in Paul's class at school and is described as the clearest thinker of the group as well as the smallest. Kropp is wounded towards the end of the novel and undergoes an amputation. Both he and Bäumer end up spending time in a Roman Catholic hospital together, Bäumer suffering from shrapnel wounds to the leg and arm. Though Kropp initially plans to commit suicide if he requires an amputation, the book suggests he postponed suicide because of the strength of military camaraderie. Kropp and Bäumer part ways when Bäumer is recalled to his regiment after recovering. Paul comments that saying farewell was "very hard, but it is something a soldier learns to deal with."[2]

Haie Westhus

Haie is described as being tall and strong, and a peat-digger by profession. Overall, his size and behavior make him seem older than Paul, yet he is the same age as Paul and his school-friends (roughly 19 at the start of the book). Haie in addition has a good sense of humor. During combat, he is injured in his back, fatally (Chapter 6) — the resulting wound is large enough for Paul to see Haie's breathing lung when Himmelstoß (Himmelstoss) carries him to safety.

Fredrich Müller

Müller is about 18 and a half years of age, one of Bäumer's classmates, when he also joins the German army as a volunteer to go to the war. Carrying his old school books with him to the battlefield, he constantly reminds himself of the importance of learning and education. Even while under enemy fire, he "mutters propositions in physics". He became interested in Kemmerich's boots and inherits them when Kemmerich dies early in the novel. He is killed later in the book after being shot point-blank in the stomach with a "light pistol" (flare gun). As he was dying "quite conscious and in terrible pain", he gave his boots which he inherited from Kemmerich to Paul.

Stanislaus "Kat" Katczinsky

Kat has the most positive influence on Paul and his comrades on the battlefield. Katczinsky was a cobbler in civilian life; he is older than Paul Bäumer and his comrades, about 40 years old, and serves as their leadership figure. He also represents a literary model highlighting the differences between the younger and older soldiers. While the older men have already had a life of professional and personal experience before the war, Bäumer and the men of his age have had little life experience or time for personal growth.

Kat is also well known for his ability to scavenge nearly any item needed, especially food. At one point he secures four boxes of lobster. Bäumer describes Kat as possessing a sixth sense. One night, Bäumer along with a group of other soldiers are holed up in a factory with neither rations nor comfortable bedding. Katczinsky leaves for a short while, returning with straw to put over the bare wires of the beds. Later, to feed the hungry men, Kat brings bread, a bag of horse flesh, a lump of fat, a pinch of salt and a pan in which to cook the food.

Kat is hit by shrapnel at the end of the story, leaving him with a smashed shin. Paul carries him back to camp on his back, only to discover upon their arrival that a stray splinter had hit Kat in the back of the head and killed him on the way. He is thus the last of Paul's close friends to die in battle. It is Kat's death that eventually makes Bäumer careless whether he survives the war or not, but that he can face the rest of his life without fear. "Let the months and the years come, they can take nothing from me, they can take nothing more. I am so alone, and so without hope that I can confront them without fear."

Tjaden

One of Bäumer's non-schoolmate friends. Before the war Tjaden was a locksmith. A big eater with a grudge against the former postman-turned corporal Himmelstoß (thanks to his strict 'disciplinary actions'), he manages to forgive Himmelstoß later in the book. Throughout the book, Paul frequently remarks on how much of an eater he is, yet somehow manages to stay as "thin as a rake." Tjaden appears in the sequel, The Road Back.


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