All Quiet on the Western Front
Erich Maria Remarque
Contributed by Loretta Ingwersen
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Character Analysis
Paul Bäumer

The narrator and protagonist of the novel. Paul and a number of friends enlist in the army at the onset of World War I after being inspired (and pressured) by the nationalist rhetoric of their school teacher Kantorek. After experiencing the cruelty of Corporal Himmelstoss at boot camp and the horror of the trenches, Paul becomes disillusioned with the war and feels as though he has been robbed of his past and his future. Paul exemplifies soldiers of the “lost generation,” who had no jobs or wives to return to once the war was over and who carried the physical and emotional scars of the war with them forever. Though Paul often talks of how the war has transformed him into an animal or automaton, he retains compassion and affection for his close comrades. And while he sometimes becomes nostalgic for his childhood spent reading and playing among the poplar trees, he is, by the end of the novel, almost indifferent to his own fate.

Kantorek

The former schoolteacher of Paul, Albert Kropp, Leer, and Joseph Behm. Kantorek pressured his students to enlist in the army and inspired them with nationalist rhetoric. Paul and his friends had trusted Kantorek because to them he appeared cultured and civilized, but what they found most persuasive about him was the “idea of authority” that he represented. Interestingly, Paul notes that it was members of the educated upper classes like Kantorek who were most in favor of the war, while poor and simple people were the most opposed.

Corporal Himmelstoss

A postman in civilian life, Corporal Himmelstoss abuses young recruits in his wartime role as a trainer at boot camp. He was particularly cruel to Tjaden, a bedwetter, whom Himmelstoss made share a bed with another bedwetter, Kindervater. Kat theorizes that ordinary men like Himmelstoss come to be so cruel because all men have something cruel and barbaric in them, and this dark inner nature is released by the rigid power hierarchy of the military. Himmelstoss, however, is a dynamic character: after he is moved to a combat position at the front and experiences the horrors of trench warfare, he softens up and tries to make amends with the men he had terrorized at boot camp. In another wrinkle of complexity, Paul wonders if the cruel treatment Himmelstoss doled out actually made them better able to survive the war.

Müller

One of Paul’s classmates. Müller is practical and unsentimental about what it takes to survive in war. When he visits Kemmerich, he pesters Kemmerich to give him his good boots even though this is a rather rude thing to do to a dying man who has just lost a leg.

Stanislaus Katczinsky

One of Paul’s closest friends. Katczinsky, or Kat, at 40 years old, is the oldest of Paul’s friends at the front and by far the cleverest. Kat has a knack for rounding up food and supplies in even the most barren conditions.

Tjaden

Another classmate of Paul’s. A bedwetter with a big appetite, Tjaden suffered abuse from Corporal Himmelstoss and longs to get even with him.

Gérard Duval

A French soldier whom Paul kills after Duval jumps into a shell hole in No Man’s Land where Paul is hiding. As Gérard slowly dies, Paul comes to sympathize with him and tries to comfort him.

Albert Kropp

A classmate of Paul’s and the most strong-willed and independent of the group. At boot camp, Albert, who is often referred to as “Kropp” in the novel, was the first to stand up to Himmelstoss.

Leer

One of Paul’s classmates, a smooth-talker with women, and an excellent math student. He bleeds to death after being hit in the hip towards the end of the war.

Joseph Behm

One of Paul’s classmates and also the most reluctant to enlist, and he does so only after Kantorek exerts great pressure. He is the first of Paul’s friends to be killed.

Detering

A simple peasant farmer with an affection for horses. Near the end of the war the sight of cherry trees makes him homesick for his farm, and he deserts the army, only to be caught and arrested.

Franz Kemmerich

A classmate of Paul’s whose leg wound develops into a deadly case of gangrene. His death early in the novel offers a glimpse of the meaningless destruction of life that is to come.

Paul’s father

Paul’s father is typical of the older generation in his militarism and ignorance of the horrors of trench warfare.

Haie Westhus

A member of Paul’s Second Company, Haie was a peat-digger in civilian life. He shocks his friends when he tells them he would re-enlist in the army after the war, if only because it is better than peat-digging.

Kindervater

A bedwetter with whom Himmelstoss forced Tjaden to share a bed in a cruel and misguided attempt to cure both of them of their bedwetting problem.

Lewandowski

A wounded soldier from Poland whom Paul and Albert meet while recovering in the hospital. When Lewandowski’s wife, whom he has not seen for two years, visits him, Paul, Albert, and the others watch out for hospital orderlies while Lewandowski and his wife have sex.

Mittelstaedt

Another former classmate of Paul’s. Mittelstaedt advances in the ranks to become a training officer, and torments Kantorek when he is eventually drafted into the army.

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