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Alexa Golbus
Mrs. Carter
English 2
15 March 2014
The Significance of Gerard Duval's Death in All Quiet on the Western Front
In All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque, the scene in which
Paul kills Gerard Duval, a French soldier, in hand-to-hand combat, illuminates and
reveals the evils, sorrows, guilt, and truths of war. Soldiers act upon instinct and do
whatever is necessary in order to survive. Paul's experience reveals that the soldiers
are all similar in several aspects: they are haunted by death, yet kill others in order to
live, and they have all had their lives destroyed by war. Whether killed, injured, or just
traumatized and haunted by the war, no soldier remains unscathed by the end of the
Immediately after Duval dies, due to Paul's actions, Paul is faced with
overwhelming guilt and regret, as Paul realizes that in acting upon crude instinct he
murdered somebody as innocent as himself. In this moment Paul's attitude and view
towards the enemy soldiers completely changes. Paul originally believed that the enemy
culpable and responsible for the war. He felt that the enemy countries and enemy
soldiers were to blame for the tragedies associated with war. Also, Paul originally
believed that "more lies (were) told by the other side than by (Germany) " (98) and that
the other side was more in the wrong than Germany was. However, after Duval dies,
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Paul comes to the understanding that the soldiers are all comrades and that war and
death "has struck...(them) both down" (107). The soldiers are all comrades brought
together by common evils war and death. They are not fighting against each other, but
rather against the embodiment of death carried in each enemy soldier. To each soldier,
the enemy soldiers are the manifestation of death, as they have the power to bring
about the end of someones life. As Duval is dying, Paul tells him that he "did not want
to kill (him)" (106), but he was "only an idea to (Paul) before" (106). Paul, like so many
other soldiers, kills "the abstraction" and representation of the enemy. Paul kills the
perceived enemy before he comes to the understanding that the real enemy is not
another soldier, but is war and death. Once Duval is dying, Paul realizes that in killing
the abstraction of the enemy, he killed a comrade. The so-called enemy soldiers are a
mere representation of the real enemy.
Paul is haunted and tortured by the overshadowing presence and reality of
death, yet he, like so many other soldiers, is willing to invoke death upon others in order
to preserve his own life. The scene in which Paul kills Duval, in order to protect his own
life, illuminates the fact that soldiers often kill the enemy soldiers, often out of "animal
instinct" (27), to forestall their own death. As Paul is sitting in a shell-hole, he is mentally
prepared to handle an enemy soldier jumping into his hole. Paul's plan is to "stab him
clean through the throat, so that he cannot call out" (102). Paul is consciously aware of
his intentions to kill an enemy soldier, in order to save himself from death. However,
once Paul stabs and kills Duval, he is overcome with grief and guilt. Paul's fear of death
leads him to make what he later deems a rash and fallacious mistake. The idea of killing
in order to prevent death further contributes to the actual, as well as perceived, horrors
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and evils of war. The death scene contributes to the reader's understanding of not only
the physical, but also emotional pain, caused by war.
The soldiers' lives are all adversely affected by the war. In hand-to-hand combat
resulting in a fatality, both soldiers' lives are negatively impacted. At one point in the
story, Paul kills Gerard Duval. Duval is dead, and Paul realizes that in killing Duval, he
took "life also" (102) from himself. Paul is overcome by the guilt of "killing with (his)
hands" (107). He is tortured by the death of Duval and feels that Duval "has an invisible
dagger with which he stabs (Paul)" (105). Paul is scarred by the experience of inflicting
the very thing he fears, upon another man. Paul is further tormented by Duval, as Paul
is forced to think about his actions, as Duval does not die right away, but suffers before
his death. The entire time that Duval is dying Paul feels guilt and responsibility for the
ending and destruction of another man's life.
The scene in which Paul kills Duval provides an emotional aspect to the war,
because it provokes feeling and sorrow from the reader, as it displays the true effect of
the war on the soldiers. It gives depth to and intensifies the savagery and terror of the
war. It also provides the reader with a long lasting image of the barbarity and
dehumanizing effects of the war. The scene in which Paul kills Duval epitomizes and
defines the conflicts, specifically the internal conflicts, of war. The internal conflict, which
Paul faces, is killing another soldier in order to preserve his own life. Paul struggles with
the guilt of killing a man he later realizes was a comrade in the fight against the true
enemy death.