Character Analysis Gérard Duval


By a chance landing into the watery foxhole that Paul inhabits, Gérard Duval falls victim to Paul's small dagger. The Frenchman, with his pointed beard and gurgling, dying breath, rivets Paul's attention, pulling him on "a terrible journey of three yards, a long, a terrible journey" until Paul arrives at his side. Paul's perusal of the man at close range reaffirms earlier inferences about war: The enemy is composed of ordinary men, like the Russian prisoners of war, who hold no personal grudge against German soldiers.

Unable to cry out, Duval seems even more pitiable because of his terrified expression and his inability to speak. After his death around three o'clock in the afternoon, Paul learns more about Duval by rummaging through his wallet, locating letters and pictures of his family, and learning that he worked as a typesetter. Paul regrets the death, noting "the dead man might have had thirty more years of life if only I had impressed the way back to our trench more sharply on my memory." The crazed monologue continues, with Paul vowing to write to Duval's wife, begging forgiveness, and seeking an illogical atonement by promising to become a printer.

The confrontation with Duval creates a resolve in Paul to "fight against this, that has struck us both down; from you, taken life — and from me — ? Life also." The next morning, safely returned by Kat and Albert, Paul pours out the story of Duval's death. He is reminded, "That is what you are here for."