Paul’s company receives a batch of new recruits to replace the dead and
Seeing these new lambs arrive for the slaughter, Paul and the others feel
like hardened veterans. Some of these recruits are only seventeen years old.
Kat is a valuable member of the group.
He is adept at scrounging extra food and provisions. He is a true survivor and makes the most of life in the trenches. Kat and Kropp both put forward ideas that would bring the war to an end quickly, or even stop it starting in the first place. Kat thinks that if everybody in the war received the same food and pay, it would soon be over. Kropp thinks that the war should be restricted to the Generals and leaders, and they should face one another in an arena and fight each other with clubs.
Strangely, Paul and his friends remember how life was much easier back at
the training barracks.
Even the sadistic Himmelstoss seems mild compared to the realities of war. Kat, an astute judge of character, recognizes that Himmelstoss is the type of small-minded power-hungry man that uses war as a vehicle with which to pursue their cruelty. The army runs on power. Those above you wield their power over you and control you. The group learns that Himmelstoss is coming up to the Front. Tjaden has more reason than most to hate Himmelstoss who gave him a torrid time because he was a bed-wetter. Himmelstoss was convinced that the bed-wetting was attributed to laziness. He forced Tjaden and another bed-wetter to sleep in the same set of bunks, and he forced them to trade places so that the one underneath would be drenched in the other’s urine. Himmelstoss’ treatment of the boys only made matters worse.
Four of the classmates, Paul, Kropp, Tjaden and Haie plotted their revenge
They ambushed him when he was returning from his favorite pub. They covered his head and punched him senseless. They stripped him of his pants and lashed him with a whip. They managed to slip away without Himmelstoss discovering their identities.
Chapters 1 and 2 dealt with the general battle scene and a character study
In Chapter 3, we are provided with more detailed character analyses of other
members of the group.
Some of these analyses we obtain from understanding what various members of
the group did prior to the war. Remarque does this so as to emphasize the dehumanizing of their personalities as they survive the warfare.
Kemmerich’s death is a sad event, but we really don’t know much about him.
We feel slightly more involved in Joseph Behm’s death because we sympathize
with his reluctance to join with the other volunteers.
We will be more moved by the deaths of those that remain because we know
more about them through these characterizations.
Although we view these characters as individuals with their own
distinguishing features, so far as the war machine is concerned they are all identical and has the same opportunity to die.
Again I emphasize that this is not an adventure with a happy ending and our hero survives to the end of the story for one reason only – because he is telling the story.
In order to justify Himmelstoss’ beating, Remarque carefully explains what
this sadistic Corporal was like. For example, he had his own exercise for trying to cure Tjaden’s bed wetting problem. He devised a special drill called ‘Change at L'hne’, which was a total waste of time and was no solution at all, but merely made matters worse, and increased the
misery of Tjaden and the other bed wetting soldier.
Remarque describes Paul’s hero Kat, who is clearly a natural leader and
provides a ray of sunshine to their dismal world.
He is a cobbler by trade, an old-fashioned livelihood, but an honorable trade that reminds us of a life before the mechanized age. The kind of tradesman that Kat represents died in this conflict. There was no place in the so-called modern world of the 1920’s for such as him.
Towards the end of the Chapter, we witness another illustration of the
dehumanizing of the soldiers at the Front.
What starts of as a prank against Himmelstoss nearly ends in murder. There is much symbolism in the names of those involved in this episode. Haie translated means shark. Himmelstoss translated means heaven strike or hit. Paul and his friends exhibit the same type of cruelty on Himmelstoss that they experienced both from the Corporal and the others in command of their company. Although the soldiers are themselves powerless, when the opportunity presents itself, they enjoy exercising power over others. Briefly, they can anonymously exercise their power over Himmelstoss. We note that Haie did the bulk of the beating of Himmelstoss, and as his name suggests, he bent over his victim “with a fiendish grin and his mouth open with bloodlust”. Further on we read, “At last Haie pulled Himmelstoss to his feet again, and gave a private performance as the final act. He drew his right arm so far back before clouting him that it looked as it he was trying to pluck stars out of the night sky. Himmelstoss went down. Haie picked him up again, lined him up and gave him a second magnificently aimed wallop with his left hand. Himmelstoss howled and fled on all fours. His striped postman’s backside shone in the moonlight.” Remarque cleverly describes the scene and it is easily visualized by the reader.
Much of the success of this book stems from the descriptive pen of its author.