Summary and Analysis
At the field depot, Second Company takes a brief, well deserved rest. They are reorganizing, in need of more than a hundred reinforcements. Himmelstoss is friendly and, because he brought Westhus back after he was wounded, Paul is kinder to him. Himmelstoss also took over the cooking from Ginger, so he brings Paul and his friends food. At rest and full of food, Paul cannot think of the front line. Instead, he recounts who is dead and wounded and tries to use humor to keep his thoughts straight. Kropp and Paul find a theatre poster from a long-since-abandoned theatre. The girls in the poster remind them of the life they had forgotten, and they look at themselves and see the many layers of civilization that are gone. Paul and the others decide to visit the delousing station.
Billeted near a canal, Paul and his friends swim naked and flirt in makeshift, broken French with three French girls. After the soldiers promise food, the girls boldly gesture toward their house and walk on. Later that night, undeterred by lack of official leave and bolstered by rum, punch, and tall tales, the men plunge into the canal, holding cigarettes in their boots as they swim on their backs to the opposite side. The girls welcome their late-night visitors, chatter in French, and share the food. Paul, disdainful of military brothels, clings to a small brunette, his mind filled with passion for the dream girl he saw on the poster. In her arms, he tries to forget the death and the terror of war.
Following their amorous episode, Paul is issued a seventeen-day pass, to be followed by training on the moors, totaling a full six weeks away from battle. Kat encourages him to try to get a job at the training camp; talking with Kat, Paul wonders whether he will ever see these comrades again. He buys his pals a round of drinks at the canteen, bids goodbye to the brunette, and then reports to the railhead for the long trip home.
Arriving on Saturday, Paul's heart trembles at the passing scene as it becomes more familiar. He takes in the street, cyclists, a subway, the mill bridge, an old tower, shops, and bare-armed laundresses. The smells of the stream draw his thoughts to memories of playing there as a boy. He walks to his home. Weak from the emotion he feels when he hears his sister's voice, Paul leans on his rifle and weeps, then recovers his military bearing and demands a handkerchief. He perceives the frailty of his ailing mother and sits at her bedside, glad that he feels no need to converse, and presents his gifts of bread, butter, cheese, sausage, melted fat, and rice — rations that are in short supply among civilians. Paul's fearful mother questions him about wartime conditions, concerned about what she has heard. Although Paul mentions that his family was never demonstrative, he feels there is a distance, a veil that did not exist earlier. Unable to relieve his mother's illness, Paul assuages her worries with lies. Later, in the kitchen, Paul's sister informs him that his mother has suffered for several months with a recurrence of cancer.
On his way to the commandant's office, Paul fails to salute a major, who chastises him for his bad manners. Having endured the horrors of the front, Paul is angry that he should be scolded for his lack of protocol. He puts on civilian clothes that are too small for him since he has grown in the army; looking in a mirror he hardly recognizes himself. Although his mother welcomes his civilian clothes, his father wants him to wear his uniform, but Paul refuses. He can no longer communicate with his parents, and talking about the war simply worries him, because he does not want to put his fears into words.
Everything at home is so different from a year ago. His German master sees himself as an authority on the war and admonishes Paul for his short-term vision. Following his war experience, Paul has a difficult time seeing how the lives of these civilians can have any purpose, and he returns, dismayed, to his room at home. Looking at his books and papers, he realizes he cannot find his way back to his youth.
A sense of parting is now in the air. His mother is counting the days, and Paul realizes he must see Kemmerich's mother before he leaves for the training camp. Lying to the woman, he tells her Franz died instantly and is discomfited with her questions and her disbelief. Why does one death make so much difference when soldiers see so many? The night before Paul leaves, his mother comes into his room and they converse, but his thoughts are far different from his words. He wishes things could be the way they used to be, but he reassures her that it isn't so dangerous and tells her that she should not worry. Because his mother is very ill, Paul realizes he will probably never have the opportunity to tell her all that is in his heart. With these thoughts, he regrets coming home, because as long as he remained indifferent and hopeless he survived. Now he does not, cannot, feel that way.
This chapter is a poignant, bittersweet reminder of what happened to Paul Bäumer's entire generation. The front provides a sharp contrast with the home that Paul later visits. At the front, the soldiers see basic needs as most important. As Paul says, "We will make ourselves comfortable and sleep, and eat as much as we can stuff into our bellies, and drink and smoke so that hours are not wasted. Life is short." His visit to the brunette is a reminder of the idealized dream girl on the theatre poster. Naked and in her arms, Paul feels strangely vulnerable, clinging to her like an island in a dangerous sea. After he leaves for home, he tries not to put the war front into words, because to be indifferent to it is what keeps him alive.
During Paul's leave, details of the beauty and familiarity of home and family touch his heart. He is so moved by the "golden-red light," the Dolbenberg Mountain, and his beloved poplar trees that he perceives the total picture and is moved by it "as though it were [his] mother." Symbolically, Paul passes over the bridge that separates home from the war. His military equipment removed, he looks up at the case that holds his butterfly collection, suggesting the separation between his youthful innocence and the hardened exterior he has acquired at the front.
Taking in the sights and smells of his home, Paul cries as he hears his sister's voice. The dirt and callousness of the front fall away, and he shows his compassion in lying to his mother about war conditions. Paul recognizes, with both his parents, that things are never going to be the same again. He can never describe to them what he is facing and his father, especially, is totally ignorant of the things Paul has witnessed as a young soldier. The gap between civilian and soldier is so immense that Paul says, "They have worries, aims, desires, that I cannot comprehend." He must lie to his mother and he must keep silent with his father. What a vast gulf divides them.
Back in his room he remembers the schoolboy he once was and looks up at his school-boy books. "I want that quiet rapture again. I want to feel the same powerful, nameless urge that I used to feel when I turned to my books." Wishing he could return to the "lost eagerness of [his] youth," he turns away, realizing that he cannot find his way back.
The chapter's most poignant scene is between Paul and his mother. Sensing that he will never see her again, Paul tries to soothe her fears and put on a stolid countenance. All the while he is thinking:
Ah! Mother, Mother! How can it be that I must part from you? Who else is there that has any claim on me but you? Here I sit and there you are lying; we have so much to say, and we shall never say it.
With these words Remarque brings home the total sense of alienation Paul and his friends feel from home, family, clothing, books, trees, houses, bridges, and warmth. This generation is one that has lost its childhood, its dreams, its faith in a meaningful world, and its concern for the individual. As Paul heads back to the training camp, he realizes he no longer fits anywhere.
canteen a place outside a military camp where refreshments and entertainment are provided for members of the armed forces.
hoarding [British] a billboard.
bon ami [French] a good friend.
Un moment [French] one moment.
La guerre — grand malheur — pauvres garçons [French] The war — great unhappiness — poor boys.
Dolbenberg a mountain outside Paul's hometown.
confectioner's the store of a confectioner, a person whose work or business is making or selling confections or candy.
chemist [British] a pharmacist.
whortleberries blue or blackish edible berries with a powdery bloom.
dripping the fat and juices that drip from roasting meat.
Herr [German] Mr.; Sir.; a German title of respect.
Between Langemark and Bixschoote towns north and northwest of Ypres in northwest Belgium, one of the most war-ravaged communities of World War I.
beer garden an establishment that serves beer, often at an outdoor patio.
skittle-alley a narrow expanse of lawn where players roll a wooden ball at a tight arrangement of ninepins.
Froggies [Slang] the French; term of contempt or derision.
what we ought to annex that is, lands that Germany felt it had a right to claim.
johnnies [British] any men or boys.
Iron Cross a prestigious German military decoration.
Flanders region in northwest Europe, on the North Sea, including a part of northwest France and the provinces of East Flanders and West Flanders in Belgium.
one mark twenty pfennig the mark and the pfennig are monetary units of Germany.
territorial a volunteer home guard.
schnapps any strong alcoholic liquor.
pill-box a low, enclosed gun emplacement of concrete and steel.
pothooks S-shaped hooks for hanging pots or kettles over a fire.
bread fatigue kitchen duty.
C.O. commanding officer.