Friendship is one of the key themes in the novel, All Quiet on the Western Front, which takes place behind the German frontlines during World War I. Erich Maria Remarque uses symbolic events in order to portray the importance of relationships between soldiers and the historical situation. Several soldiers of the Second Company-Paul Baumer, Stanilaus Katczinsky (Kat), Franz Kemmerich, Muller, and Detering- are involved in the events that shape the way in which friendships are taken on and formed, and also how the brutality of war affects them. The passing down of Kemmerich’s boots, the screaming of the wounded horses, and the goose incidents are the primary events in All Quiet on the Western Front that are used to exemplify the true meaning of friendship and demonstrate how difficult the historical situation is for the soldiers.
Kemmerich’s boots are handed on from one soldier to another as each possessor passes away. Originally, Kemmerich stole the boots from the corpse of a dead airman, but he is now lying in his deathbed after having his leg amputated. Once Muller finds out that Kemmerich is dying, he begins planning his attaining of the boots. To most people, this type of scheming would seem rude and unthoughtful, but to these soldiers, it is different. Paul says, “Kemmerich will die; it is immaterial who gets them. Why, then, should Muller not succeed them? When Kemmerich is dead it will be too late” (21). Paul ends up taking the boots to Muller after Kemmerich dies, and later receives them himself when Muller is killed from being shot. Thus, the boots are representing how cheap human life actually is during war. Because these boots are lasting longer than a human, they seem to be more valued than someone’s life. The boots also symbolize the essential practicality that a soldier needs to have. They cannot display their emotions during the brutality of war; instead, they must block out sorrow and desolation, almost like a robot. These soldiers live together and create strong friendships. Every day their friends are taken away from them, so if they do not learn how to control their emotions, they will be too weak and depressed to stay in the right mind and put up the best battle they have. These soldiers live and suffer together. Therefore, strong friendships grow and losing one another is an unbearable thing to have to deal with. So instead of being upset about the loss of a friend, they look forward to a pair of boots.
While in the field, the men hear the sounds of screaming horses. When Detering realizes what is happening, he demands that the horse be shot and killed. He felt that he should put the innocent horse out of their misery instead of letting them suffer. Although, no one was allowed to do so because it would give away their position to the enemy. Detering gives up and says, “Like to know what harm they’ve done” (64). Later, Paul helps a young soldier when he becomes injured because a coffin lands on top of him after it is blown up by the shelling. Paul ends up shooting him to put him out of his misery, just as Detering wanted to do to the horses. Detering simply wanted to relieve the innocent of their pain because they did nothing wrong, just like the young soldier. Even though Paul does not know the young soldier, he knows that what he has done is for the best.
The food that soldiers are provided during war is neither plentiful nor tasteful. One night, Kat and Paul hear the cackle of geese. They decide that geese will make a delicious meal, so they later coax a weapon wagon driver to take them back to the place where they believe the geese are. Once they arrive, Paul walks around and finds two geese. He tries to kill them quickly by slamming their heads against the wall, but he does not succeed, so Kat comes in and completes the job. Both men return back to cook the geese and gulp them down so that they do not get caught. As they sit there cooking and eating the geese, Paul describes, “We sit opposite one another, Kat and I, two soldiers in shabby coats, cooking a goose in the middle of the night. We don’t talk much, but I believe we have a more complete communion with one another than even lovers have. We are two men, two minute sparks of life; outside is the night and the circle of death. We sit on the edge of it crouching in danger, the grease drips from our hands, in our hearts we are close to one another…What does he know of me or I of him? formerly we should not have had a single thought in common–now we sit with a goose between us and feel in unison, are so intimate that we do not even speak” (94). Paul and Kat hardly knew each other before the goose incident, but now they seem to have a special connection with each other. This novel demonstrates how important it is for soldiers to have someone who will have their back. Now, both Paul and Kat have that.