All Quiet on the Western Front

by: Erich Maria Remarque

Chapter Two

Kemmerich’s death extends the criticism of romantic illusions about the war. He dies from a relatively light wound that probably became infected—there is no glory in his death. Here Kantorek’s patriotic exhortations fail. In modern warfare, there is no room for refined notions of honor, nor for sentimentality. Müller needs Kemmerich’s boots; it is not that he or any of the other survivors are not affected by their friend’s death but rather that they cannot allow themselves to dwell on their grief. In this way, the boots become one of the novel’s most important symbols of the cheapness of life: the boots repeatedly outlive their owners, and each time the man wearing them dies, the question of who will inherit the boots overshadows the death. Life on the front is dangerous, ugly, dirty, and miserable; the soldiers do not have adequate food and clothing, and so the day-to-day matters of survival take precedence over sentimentality. The men cannot afford to act otherwise; dwelling on each friend’s death would lead to madness.

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