The summer of 1918 was the bloodiest period of Paul’s wartime experience.
All the other classmates who volunteered with him have been killed.
There are rumors that there might be a revolt by the German people who, in many areas, are starving. The only way the German soldiers now get respite from the fighting is if they are injured.
Paul is taken ill after inhaling poison gas. He is given fourteen days leave to recuperate and wonders whether he should return home, but he decides against this because he would not know what to do with himself. He wonders if anyone of his generation will survive the war, and if they do return home, they will be pale shadows of their former selves. So far as Paul is concerned, he knows that he has been permanently scarred by his experiences and doesn’t know how he would be able to pull the threads together and form a meaningful existence.
Paul returns to the Front where he is killed on what was a very peaceful day
by normal standards. The army report only warrants one phrase, “All quiet on the Western Front.”
“He had sunk forwards and was lying on the ground as if asleep. When
they turned him over, you could see that he could not have suffered long – his face wore an expression that was so composed that it looked as if he were almost happy that it had turned out that way.”
The savage irony of the novel comes to its conclusion with the death of Paul.
He and his friends had survived almost three years of trench warfare, only
to die on the threshold of the Armistice, which would take place in November 1918, with Paul, the last of the group dying in the October.
In Paul’s home town, like towns and cities throughout Europe, they had lost a whole generation of young men.
We are conscious that Paul is Remarque’s mouthpiece for the entire novel
except the last two paragraphs. We are provided with a first person narrative, which is an ideal vehicle for this type of novel. We appreciate that some of the observations and ideologies provided by
Paul would not have realistically come from the mind of a nineteen-year-old schoolboy, but this does not detract from the message that Remarque is making.
The last two paragraphs of the book are provided by an unnamed narrator and
the narration shifts from the first person. The tense also changes, which gives the ending a timeless feel. We are not given details about Paul’s death; the narrator simply tells us that he fell.
Having traveled with Paul throughout his experiences we conclude that the ending is what Paul wished, symbolized by his peaceful expression. Paul is blessed with a dignified death, unlike many of his comrades. We now fully appreciate the ironic title to this book, as we understand its context.
We note that Paul’s death has absolutely no effect on the situation.
His single loss will go unnoticed by the war machine. Paul’s sacrifice was for nothing. The reasons he volunteered for service – nationalism and patriotism – disappeared after a few days of conflict.
Remarque’s novel is a testimony to Paul’s and all the other sacrifices, and
the further irony is that this was the War to end all Wars, but despite all the carnage that was suffered, humanity failed to learn the lessons of this conflict, and particularly in Germany the war drums were
beating again within fifteen years of the end of World War I.