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The major theme is the horror and waste of war. Throughout the novel, the death and destruction caused by battle is clearly depicted. Coupled with the physical ruin is the destruction of the spirit of the soldiers; totally drained of emotions, they become self-centered and thoughtless, almost animal-like. Baumer and his friends are no different; they quickly grow disillusioned with the brutality of fighting and sick over the losses they must endure.
The minor theme is the importance of comradeship during a war. The only thing that keeps Baumer sane during the fighting is the friendships that he has with some of his fellow soldiers. Kat is particularly important to him, and when he is killed, it is a great blow to Baumer.
The mood of the entire novel is grim; at times there is an almost savage depiction of the conditions at the battlefront. For the most part, the atmosphere reeks of death and mayhem, interspersed with moments of total bleakness and emptiness. Occasionally, bits of laughter or human warmth break through to momentarily disperse the destruction.