The Hidden Messages of "All Quiet on the Western Front"

What is below the surface of a classic war novel? The novel of a young soldier fighting in a war he doesn’t understand. Suffering from the miserable lifestyle forced upon him, only having a few friends to get him through this torture, doubting what he got himself into. Paul is always on the verge of death as is everyone, letting his body take over to get him through the war. The novel, All Quiet on the Western Front, written by Erich Maria Remarque provides a variety of symbols expressing these ideas: fear, pain, and survival.

There are many symbols in this book which have a story to them; Kemmerich’s boots, Paul’s knife, and the coffins all have a deeper meaning.

Kemmerich’s boots represent the idea of how little things that would aid in war, are more important than the wishes of a dying comrade. These boots were very precious to Kemmerich and Muller saw them as a resource that could help protect his feet in the trenches, “‘They would fit me perfectly.

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In these boots I get blister after blister’”(Remarque 17). This helps explain why Muller wants the boots because of the help it will do in the war and later in the book, it is referenced again showing how just a pair of boots, helped aid another soldier instead of being taken by the hospital. Everyone is doing everything they can to survive in these terrible conditions and this helps show how lots of things make a difference in someones lives no matter how small or big.

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Throughout this book, the idea of survival is driven by all the soldiers having to hunt for their own food and always be ducking for cover with the idea of trying to push themselves till the war ends without dying. Another symbol with a deeper meaning is the knife Paul was holding when waiting in a shell hole till he could retreat back to his trenches. This knife represents pain in multiple ways, the first way is by Paul having to stab the French soldier but also the self-conflict caused by it. Paul has a hard time deciding on what do with the injured soldier and ended up, “‘No, no, no,’ I raise one hand I must show him that I want to help him, I stroke his forehead”(Remarque 219). Paul is doing this because he has noticed that the French are just like himself and are also human, so even though he is fighting the urge to kill him so he stops making sounds and because he is the enemy, he tries to help the man and feels bad for what he has to go through. Paul tells himself he is going to write to the soldier’s wife but he knows that won’t be able to happen but tells himself this to comfort his mind.

We also see this when he finds Kat and tells him that he feels bad for killing the man, but they reassure him that he had to do it to survive. All of the soldiers had to do whatever they needed to do to get through the struggles even when it caused immense physical or mental pain. The last symbol expresses the idea of fear, and the coffins literally exhibit death. Not only do the coffins represent this because of that's where the dead are interred, but also because they use them to hide in from incoming shells and gunfire. The soldiers are always having to hide in holes or other objects. In the text it says “I merely crawl still farther under the coffin, it shall protect me, through Death himself lies in it”(Remarque 67). This is showing how they are in fear of having to be put in the coffin but also using them to protect them from their death while at constant fear of getting shot or blown up. Throughout the book, all of the soldiers are scared of dying and want to leave the frontline as fast as they can, always thinking about getting injured and losing their ability to walk or do what they wanted when they come back home after the war. The fear takes over their minds and most of them use cigarettes to get their mind off the war so they can feel relaxed instead of always being under lots of stress. These symbols have conveyed several deeper meanings than just what they are. They have helped show the different feelings of the characters and the authors meaning of writing in All Quiet on the Western Front.

Through survival, pain, fear, and much more: Erich Maria Remarque has shown how war is a terrible thing, only causing pain to both sides. Not only does it end with many deaths, but everyone in the war is affected for the rest of their lives. The symbolism has helped engage the reader for them to see the deeper meaning hidden in the text. Remarque’s use of significant symbols throughout the text helps to convey a hidden message and ultimately makes All Quiet on the Western Front one of the best war stories of all time.

Updated: Nov 01, 2022
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The Hidden Messages of "All Quiet on the Western Front". (2021, Mar 23). Retrieved from

The Hidden Messages of "All Quiet on the Western Front" essay
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