In relating Paul's experience with the French girl, the author is tying to show the romance and innocence that is still a part of Paul's nature. In contrast to Leer, who is "an old hand at the game", passion is new to Paul, something beautiful to which he "yield(s) himself trustingly...his desires are strangely compounded of yearning and misery". Paul looks for his fleeting relationship with the French girl to be something pure and meaningful, and as he "press(es) ever deeper into the arms that embrace (him)...(he hopes) a miracle may happen". In the midst of the horror of war, he longs for the experience of young love in all its freshness, but soon finds that "a man dreams of a miracle and wakes up to loaves of bread". The French girl has no real feelings of tenderness for him; she is just using him for the gifts of food that he brings.
When Paul goes home on a six week leave from the front, he discovers just how much he has changed. He has been "crushed without knowing it...he (does) not belong (at home) any more, it is a foreign world". He longs for the happiness and peace of his old life, but his experiences on the battlefield have made it impossible for him to fit back into things the way they were. He is engulfed with "a terrible feeling of foreignness", and "cannot find (his) way back, (he is) shut out". Paul finds that coming home on leave only makes him yearn for what he can no longer have, and makes going back to the front that much more heart-wrenching. While he was on the battlefield, he was "indifferent and often hopeless", but now, having come home on leave, he is "nothing but an agony for (himself), for (his) mother, for everything that is so comfortless and without end" (Chapter 7).