How to Teach All Quiet on the Western Front

Considered one of the greatest war stories ever written, All Quiet on the Western Front will spark class discussion on the harsh realities of war. Remarque's novel depicts World War I from the perspective of a German soldier. Before starting the book, students should review Germany's participation in World War I and note the significance of trench warfare, airplanes, poison gas, flamethrowers, Kaiser Wilhelm, and the entrance of the United States into the war. This historic background will help students understand the context of the novel and how the then-new weapon technologies altered traditional warfare.

When reading the novel, students can discuss the influence of patriotic propaganda and authority figures, such as teachers and politicians. They can examine how nationalism can be problematic and assess the ethics of encouraging youth to join the military based on idealistic promises of patriotism and glory. Students can compare these idealistic notions of war to the brutal realities Remarque portrays. This comparison can lead to a conversation on how All Quiet on the Western Front is viewed as a pacifist, anti-war novel, despite Remarque's statement that the book is not an accusation but a simply a description of the experiences of World War I soldiers.

Summary

After listening to his teacher's patriotic speeches, Paul Bäumer joins the German army near the beginning of World War I. When Paul arrives at the Western Front, he soon grows disillusioned with the nationalist propaganda as he frequently engages in combat and endures the awful conditions of trench warfare. He later takes leave but feels disconnected from his family and town after witnessing his comrades get injured or killed. Paul returns to the front, where his friends fall in combat one by one. As the war reaches a close, Paul realizes that he does not know how to cope with peacetime. On a day with little combat, Paul is killed; the army's situation report for the day reads: "All quiet on the Western Front."

All Quiet on the Western Front

All Quiet on the Western Front

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Considered one of the greatest war stories ever written, Remarque's novel of social protest details the life of Paul Bäumer as he enlists in the German army. Your students will easily identify with Paul as he takes his place in the trenches and finds his youthful enthusiasm quickly fades.

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Content Warning

All Quiet on the Western Front contains profanity, sexual references, and graphic descriptions of violence.

Objectives for Teaching All Quiet on the Western Front

  • Explain the significance and irony of the title of the novel.
  • Define stereotyping and illustrate how Remarque uses it to ridicule teachers, doctors, and political leaders.
  • Discuss the coping techniques the soldiers use to maintain their sanity in an insane situation.
  • Explain the relationships between horses and young recruits.
  • Discuss Paul's view of fate and the significance of the ending of the story as it relates to that view.
  • Discuss the opinions of several characters regarding ways to solve conflicts between countries without involving young men in war.

Key Elements and Techniques

  • Apostrophe
  • Foil
  • Foreshadowing
  • Irony
  • Juxtaposition
  • Sensory Images
  • Simile
  • Stereotyping
  • Symbol

Themes and Motifs

  • Nationalism — After political speeches inspire Paul Bäumer to join the army, he quickly becomes disillusioned and realizes that nationalistic ideals are just empty clichés.
  • War — Throughout the book, Remarque illustrates the brutal realities of war and emphasizes the massive loss of life for negligible gains.
  • Trauma —  The novel depicts the traumatic experiences of war and the difficulties soldiers face when returning from the front.

Key Facts

  • Length: 291 pages
  • Lexile Measure: 830
  • Publication Date: 1929
  • Recommended Grade Band: 10 – 12

Movies

All Quiet on the Western Front has been adapted into two movies, both with the same title. The 1930 film directed by Lewis Milestone sparked political controversy when it was released in Europe, but it has been widely praised in the United States and has been preserved and restored by the Library of Congress. The 1979 TV-movie directed by Delbert Mann won a Golden Globe and an Emmy.

Your students will love:

  • Experiencing World War I through the perspective of a German soldier.
  • Understanding the realities of war and its direct impact on soldiers.

Students may have problems with:

  • The somewhat uneven pacing.
  • The dated and matter-of-fact language.

Available from Prestwick House:

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Available Formats
All Quiet on the Western Front
Complete Teacher's Kit
AP Teaching Unit
Response Journal

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