All Quiet on the Western Front (Im Westen nichts Neues) is an anti-war novel written by Erich Maria Remarque, a German veteran of World War I, about the horrors of that war and also the deep detachment from German civilian life felt by many men returning from the front. The book was first published in German as Im Westen nichts Neues in January 1929. It sold 2.5 million copies in twenty-five languages in its first eighteen months in print. In 1930 the book was turned into an Oscar-winning movie of the same name, directed by Lewis Milestone.
Brian Murdoch's 1993 translation would render the phrase as "there was nothing new to report on the western front" within the narrative. Explaining his retention of the original book-title, he says:
Paul Bäumer dies at the end of the novel, in October 1918. At the time of his death the western front was so quiet that the army dispatches for the day read that there was nothing new to report from the western front, and the book's German title refers to this. In the novel's adaptations for films, Bäumer was killed either while reaching for a butterfly (film) or drawing a bird (television movie), or as it says in the book in the field with a look of calm that showed he had not suffered long.
Müller is about 19 years of age, and 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. As he was dying "quite conscious, and in terrible pain," he gave his pocket-book and the boots he inherited from Kemmerich to Bäumer.
Also known as Kat, he 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, 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. When Katczinsky is killed it is as though a great hero has died.
Kat is also well known for his ability to source nearly any item needed, above all, food. At one point he secures four boxes of lobsters. 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 meat, a lump of fat, a pinch of salt and a pan in which to cook the food.
Kat is injured by an air attack at the end of the story, being hit by shrapnel. Bäumer carries him back to camp on his back, only to discover upon their arrival that a shell fragment 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."
Leer is a soldier in Bäumer's company. He is very popular with women; when he and his comrades meet three French girls, he is the first to seduce one of the girls. Bäumer describes Leer's ability to attract girls by saying "Leer is an old hand at the game". In chapter 11, Leer is hit by a shell fragment, which also hits Bertink. The shrapnel tears open Leer's hip, causing him to bleed to death quickly. His death causes Paul to ask himself, "What use is it to him now that he was such a good mathematician in school?"
Lieutenant Bertink, often referred to as the company commander, is the leader of Bäumer's company. His men have a great respect for him, and Bertink has great fondness for his men. He permits them to eat the rations of the men that had been killed in action, standing up to the chef who would only allow them their allotted share. Bertink is genuinely despondent when he learns that few of his men had survived an engagement. When he and the other characters are trapped in a trench under heavy attack, Bertink spots a flamethrower team advancing on them, which will certainly kill them all. Although already shot in the chest and hit in the chin by the same shell fragment that killed Leer, Bertink manages to kill the flamethrower team, and right afterward he mutters "good", assured that his men will live, and slumps down dead.
Remarque's portrayal of Himmelstoss easily raises the ire of the reader. Before enlisting in the war he was a post-man. He is a power-hungry corporal with special contempt for Paul and his friends, taking sadistic pleasure in punishing the minor infractions of his trainees during their basic training in preparation for their deployment. He often teases Tjaden and Kindervater about their bed-wetting and make them sleep under one another. However, Bäumer and his comrades have a chance to get back at Himmelstoss, mercilessly whipping him on the night before they board trains to go to the front. Himmelstoss later joins them at the front, revealing himself as a coward who shirks his duties for fear to get hurt or killed, and pretends to be wounded because of a scratch on his face. Bäumer beats him and when a lieutenant comes along looking for men for a trench charge, Himmelstoss joins and leads the charge. He carries Haie Westhus' body to Bäumer after he is fatally wounded. Matured and repentant through his experiences Himmelstoss later asks for forgiveness from his previous charges. As he becomes the new staff cook, to prove his friendship he secures two pounds of sugar for Bäumer and half a pound of butter for Tjaden.
The film won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1930 for its producer Carl Laemmle Jr., and an Academy Award for Directing for Lewis Milestone. It was the first all-talking non-musical film to win the Best Picture Oscar. It also received two further nominations: Best Cinematography, for Arthur Edeson, and Best Writing Achievement for Abbott, Anderson and Andrews.
The Road Back (1931) another book written by Erich Maria Remarque, is about a different group of soldiers trying to cope with postwar Germany: dealing with the defeated German society after the war, trying to go to school, and trying to live a normal life.
The book was banned during Nazi rule, the content of the 1937 Hollywood film directed by James Whale and released by Universal Pictures was watered down to avoid a German boycott, and Remarque was stripped of his German citizenship in 1938.
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