Summary and Analysis
Following the desperate events at the front, Chapter 5 creates a quiet mood of camaraderie among the group and especially between Paul and Kat. As the chapter opens, Tjaden rigs up a lid from a boot-polish tin, a wire, and a candle in order to kill lice. While they are relaxing, the group discusses a rumor that Himmelstoss has arrived at the front, transferred because he was too hard on recruits. Tjaden ponders his revenge.
In quiet moments, they discuss what they would do if peace occurred. Kropp says he would get drunk; Kat would go home to his wife and children; and Westhus would find a woman and a bed and then become a soldier with the Prussians, reasoning that, as a soldier, he would at least have food, a bed, clean underwear, clothes, and pubs in the evening. Tjaden ponders what he will do to Himmelstoss, and Detering worries about the harvest.
Himmelstoss arrives and he and Tjaden have an insult contest, with Himmelstoss demanding respect and Tjaden insulting him and eventually mooning him. As a result, Himmelstoss storms out, threatening a court-martial and Tjaden laughs so hard he dislocates his jaw, causing Kropp to hit him in order to realign it. They wonder if Himmelstoss will report Tjaden, who laughs that he could sit out the war in prison. The confrontation ends in the Orderly Room where Lt. Bertink gives Tjaden and Kropp a fair hearing and the bed-wetting incident is recounted. Tjaden gets three days open arrest behind a barbed wire fence, and Kropp gets one day. This is a light sentence; the others are able to visit the prisoners and play cards with them.
Chapter 5 also includes a scene of friendship and affection between Paul and Kat. They go after a goose and end up killing, roasting, and eating it in a shed away from the others. It is a quiet moment of contentment, in which Paul declares to himself, "We are brothers." They take some of the meat to share with Tjaden and Kropp. As the chapter ends, Paul considers the contrast between their evening and the events of the war: "We are two men, two minute sparks of life; outside is the night and the circle of death." Then he sleeps.
In Chapter 5, Remarque takes the opportunity to contemplate the war and its effects on his generation. His treatment suggests that for every terrible event there is an opposite opportunity: The comradeship that reveals the humanity of these desperate men contrasts with the terrible inhumanity all around them.
Paul counts up the men in his class that enlisted together. Of the twenty, one is insane, seven are dead, and four are wounded. Before the war, these boys sat near him in class and learned about cohesion and mathematics, subjects that do not help them now to survive. As Paul says, "We remember mighty little of all that rubbish. Anyway, it has never been the slightest use to us." This leads him to consider what will happen after the conflict ends. He tells his friends:
. . . when I hear the word "peace-time," it goes to my head: and if it really came, I think I would do some unimaginable thing — something, you know, that it's worth having lain here in the muck for. But I can't even imagine anything. . . ."
He adds, to himself, "All at once everything seems to me confused and hopeless." And Albert replies, "The war has ruined us for everything."
With this hollow feeling, Remarque contrasts the comradeship of Kat and Paul. That evening in their shed, away from the deafening bombs and shrapnel and the grisly war deaths, they share a quiet moment of feasting and fellowship. Paul muses that they sit "opposite one another . . . two soldiers in shabby coats," and cook a goose in the darkness of the night. "We don't talk much, but I believe we have a more complete communion with one another than even lovers have."
bobby [Informal] a British policeman.
court-martialled convicted by a court-marial, a trial by armed-forces personnel of a person accused of breaking military law.
"William Tell" a dramatic historical poem written by Johann Schiller in 1804, which emphasizes the themes of freedom and patriotism. In Swiss legend, William Tell was a hero in the fight for independence from Austria, forced, on pain of death, to shoot an apple off his son's head with bow and arrow.
Poetic League of Göttingen a spontaneous Göttingen University league of appreciators of romantic poetry organized in 1771, similar to the "Dead Poet's Society." By 1775, the students eventually drifted apart after many of them graduated.
Charles the Bald Charles I A.D. 823-877; king of France (843-877) and, as Charles II, Holy Roman Emperor (875-877).
the battle of Zama a reference to the Battle of Zama of 202 B.C.; in which Scipio (237?-183? B.C.), a Roman general, defeated Hannibal (247-183? B.C.), a Cathaginian general who occupied what is now Tunisia, ending the 2d Punic War.
Lycurgus real or legendary Spartan lawgiver of about the 9th century B.C.
pince-nez eyeglasses without temples, kept in place by a spring gripping the bridge of the nose.
possy a location, or position.
hop it [Brit. slang] move along quickly.
C.B. confinement to barracks.
skat a card game for three people, played with thirty-two cards.