Paul’s company gets some respite from the Front and they are sent to a depot
that requires reorganization.
Himmelstoss makes great efforts to befriend the men after experiencing the
horrors of battle. He provides them with easy jobs to carry out and even wins Tjaden over, mainly due to the generous supply of food that he makes available.
Paul, Leer and Kropp go swimming in the nearby canal and they notice three
French women on the other side. They arrange to meet with the women later that night using food in order to persuade them.
Despite their limited knowledge of French, they are soon able to engage in conversation with these women. Paul’s only knowledge of sex has come from the army brothels where little affection is obtained. He hopes this liaison with these women will be more romantic, and that he will be able to regain some of his youth and innocence.
Paul receives seventeen days of leave and he travels home on the train to
his home town.
He has also learned that he will not return to the Front until he has carried out additional training, which will last six weeks. He ponders how many of his friends will still remain when he eventually gets back to the Front. Surprisingly, one of the French women with whom he has struck up a friendship loses interest in him when she realizes that he is going on leave, and not back to the Front. He arrives home to find that his mother is quite ill with cancer, and that the civilian population is suffering too due to the lack of food. Paul is bombarded with questions about life at the Front, but he avoids these and in fact lies to his mother because no-one can understand what the Front Line is like unless they actually experience it.
Whilst in the town, Paul fails to salute a Major who reprimands him by
making him march up and down the street, saluting him smartly. Paul decides to wear civilian clothing for the remainder of his leave. Paul’s father is particularly interested in hearing about his
experiences, not appreciating how traumatic it is to put his experiences into words.
Paul has changed. He is more nervous and starts when he hears the
screeching of the trams as it resembles the whistling of the shells. He cannot settle into this domestic lifestyle.
Mittelstaedt, one of Paul’s classmates that stayed behind, is now a training
officer and he tells Paul that their teacher Kantorek has been conscripted. Paul’s friend delighted in ordering Kantorek about whilst he was training.
The two students recall how Kantorek had coerced Joseph Behn into volunteering, and although he would have been called up within three months, he may have lived three months longer.
As Paul’s leave draws to a close, his mother becomes more depressed at their
On his last night Paul notices that she is in severe pain and he urges her to rest in bed. Deep down he longs to unburden himself to his mother and let all his emotions break free and die with her in her lap. We read, “I bury my head in my pillow, I clench my fists round the iron uprights on my bedstead. I should never have come home. Out there I was indifferent and a lot of the time I was completely without hope – I can never be like that again. I was a soldier, and now it is all suffering, for me, for my mother, for everything, because it is also hopeless and never ending.”
Paul’s unit is taken from the Front Line because they have ceased to become
a fighting unit due to the great losses they have suffered. Once their complement has been refurbished, they will again be sent into battle. We observe that Himmelstoss now appreciates the terrors on the
Front Line and wishes to appease himself with the men. He has lost the arrogant and sadistic features of his nature, and suddenly he feels vulnerable because he has lost the power that he wielded over the
men. Like the rest, his life hangs by a thread. We suspect that Kantorek will also undergo a similar transition, but there are still plenty other members of society who are pompous and power-hungry,
illustrated by Paul’s encounter with the Major in his home town.
After exposing the reader to the horrors in Chapters 4 and 6, Remarque
brings us away from the Front Line with Paul.
Firstly, we are brought to the depot and we share Paul’s almost schoolboy prank in swimming in the canal and liaising with three French women who are technically their enemies. Paul views the women as a means to regain some of his innocence and youth, for he has only known the women from the army brothels. He wishes to relive his youth and engage in a romantic relationship with the French girls. However, this is not reciprocated. Initially the girls only agree to meet the German soldiers because they will provide them with food. There is also an element of excitement for the girls in fraternizing with these soldiers who might be killed the next day at the Front. So, when Paul reveals that he is going on leave, the excitement evaporates, and the young girl with whom Paul has become friendly loses interest.
When Paul takes his leave, the reader is physically taken far away from the
Front Line and the shelling and fighting. This is symbolized by the description of the train journey. When he arrives home, he feels like a stranger unable to settle into his home life.
The way he felt before volunteering for duty is now just a vague memory. In order to survive when he returns to the Front, he knows he has to maintain his indifference and not let his emotions control his thinking. The feelings and bonds he had for his family and friends, and in fact anybody, were shattered during his initial days at the Front Line. If these relationships and feelings were to be rebuilt, it would make life at the Front impossible. What he really needs is to be left in peace to recuperate, but those around him continually bombard him with pointed questions. In the end he is forced to lie to his mother. He repeats this lying when he visits Kemmerich’s mother saying that her son died quickly and without pain. Another reason why Paul does not reveal the full horrors of the battlefield is that people may not believe that he is providing a true picture. They may think that he is exaggerating the situation and such a tone might be misconstrued as unpatriotic. In their own way, the people back home are suffering as well, almost starving, and his mother is clearly very ill with cancer. We sense that Paul is on the verge of a breakdown. He has to steel himself to keep control, both when he visits Kemmerich’s mother, and then during his final conversation with his own mother.
At the end of the Chapter we see that he deeply regrets coming home.