When there is a lull in the fighting, both sides take the opportunity to
recover bodies, repair trenches and do various other housekeeping tasks.
Paul’s unit is assigned the task of laying barbed wire at the Front Line. This task has to be done on foot. As you approach the Front Line your attitude changes because your chances of being killed are increased. Paul and his colleagues complete their task of rolling out and staking the barbed wire.
Whilst being transported away from the Line in trucks, there is a sudden
burst of shelling.
A nearby convoy of horses is caught up in the shelling and the air is filled with their cries. Deterring, the farmer, found this a particularly hard episode to experience. The horses were left to suffer whilst the wounded men were treated, but eventually they were shot. Paul and his unit continue on their way, but the artillery barrage intensifies and Paul and his group are forced to leave the trucks and seek cover in a graveyard. Soon the graveyard becomes a scene of chaos as shells exhume the coffins. The shelling makes it impossible to escape from the graveyard and Paul is forced to take refuge in a coffin beside its corpse. Finally, the bombardment ends and a specter of mayhem meet the survivors’ eyes. Paul has been hit by some shrapnel splinters but is not seriously hurt. One of his companions is more seriously wounded in the stomach and hip and he will not survive long the way he is losing blood. With no chance of rescue, Kat and Paul decide on a mercy killing, for the young recruit will be in agony when the shock wears off. Before they are able to carry out this deed, the rest of the survivors gather round condemning the young man to a painful death.
Chapter 4 is the start of an important set of Chapters from 4 through to 6.
Here Remarque takes us through a more detailed description of the horrors
arising from an artillery bombardment.
We read, “The earth explodes in front of us. Great clumps of it come raining down on top of us. I feel a jolt. My sleeve has been ripped by some shrapnel. I clench my fist. No pain. But that is no comfort; wounds never start to hurt until afterwards. '' A piece of shrapnel hit my helmet, but it came from so far of that it didn’t cut through the steel. I wiped the dirt out of my eyes. A hole has been blown in the ground right in front of me; I can just about make it out. Shells don’t often land in the same place twice and I want to get into that hole. Without stopping I wriggle across towards it as fast as I can, flat as an eel on the ground – there is a whistling noise again, I curl up quickly and grab for some cover, feel something to my left and press against it, it gives, I groan, and the earth is torn up again, the blast thunders in my ears, I crawl under whatever it was that gave way when I touched it, pull it over me – it is wood.” The wood is in fact a coffin. It is death itself that protects Paul. We can picture Paul trying to merge with the earth, desperately seeking protection from the terrible artillery onslaught.
This whole Chapter is full of imagery and there is almost a deep personal
relationship with the mother earth, and Paul is the child seeking protection.
Paul observes that the soldiers turn into animals driven by their instinct
A most disturbing scene involves the horses that are caught up in the bombardment. Deterring finds this particularly hard to bear because, being a farmer, he is very fond of horses which at this time were essential to the farmer to get the manual work done in bringing in the crops etc. Again we observe Detering’s viewpoint that horses are honorable beasts and like the humans, have been brought down to the lowest level by the war machine.
The confused life at the Front is highlighted by this graveyard scene, where
even those that have died are not allowed to Rest in Peace, but are exhumed by the constant shelling. The reader can clearly see how there is no honor or glory in this war. It is a true hell on earth scenario.
So far as the Front Line soldier is concerned, performing a patriotic duty
for the Fatherland is way down on the list of priorities. All the soldier cares about is surviving, trying to do his best to avoid the bullet and the shells, acquiring food, obtaining clothing even if it comes
from fallen comrades, and shelter.
Remarque uses a well-established writing technique by creating a climax in
this Chapter. The Chapter starts in an innocuous fashion and then he cleverly increases the pace and brings about a crescendo of violence and horror. Through his descriptive writing, all our senses are
We first imagine the sounds emitted by the shells and bullets, the moaning of the dying horses and the cries of the wounded soldiers. We can visualize the colors of the flares and rockets, and we can almost smell the damp earth and the cordite-filled air. We can also experience the sense of suffocation and claustrophobia when the men are forced to wear their gas masks. Chapter 4 represents one of the most intense Chapters in the book.
Chapter 5 provides us with a respite.