Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
All Quiet on the Western Front doesn’t employ a great deal of symbolism, but one important symbol in the novel is Kemmerich’s boots. Kemmerich’s high, supple boots are passed from soldier to soldier as each owner dies in sequence. Kemmerich himself took them from the corpse of a dead airman, and as Kemmerich lies on his own deathbed, Müller immediately begins maneuvering to receive the boots. Paul brings them to Müller after Kemmerich dies and inherits them himself when Müller is shot to death later in the novel. In this way, the boots represent the cheapness of human life in the war. A good pair of boots is more valuable—and more durable—than a human life. The question of who will inherit them continually overshadows their owners’ deaths. The boots also symbolize the necessary pragmatism that a soldier must have. One cannot yield to one’s emotions amid the devastation of the war; rather, one must block out grief and despair like a machine.