In Chapter 7 of All Quiet on the Western Front, Paul narrates,
We want to live at any price; so we cannot burden ourselves with feelings which . . . would be out of place here.
From their experiences of the grotesqueness of the effects of mustard gas, the savage brutality and the madness and despair of trench warfare, Paul and the other soldiers become benumbed and dehumanized.Remarque writes in Chapter 6,
After this affair the sticky, close atmosphere works more than ever on our nerves. We sit as if in our graves waiting only to be closed in.
Night again. We are deadened by the strain--a deadly tension that scrapes along one's spine like a gapped knife. Our legs refuse to move, our hands tremble, our bodies are a thin skin stretched painfully over repressed madness, over an almost irresistible, bursting roar. We have neither flesh nor muscles any longer, we dare not look at one aother for fear of some miscalculable thing. So we shut our teeth--it will end--it will end--perhaps we will come through.
To further describe the men's condition, Remarque writes in an impressionistic style,
The brown earth, the torn, blasted earth, with a greasy shine under the sun's rays, the earth is the background of this reslesss, gloomy world of automatons, our gasping is the scratching of a quill, our lips are dry, our heads are debauched with stupor--thus we stagger forward, and into our pierced and shattered souls bores the torturing image of the brown earth with the greasy sun and the convulsed and dead soldiers.
It is this "automaton" who returns home on leave in Chapter 7. However, Paul finds that he is irritated with questions about his being at the front. When his father asks him to wear his uniform, Paul refuses. When his old schoolmaster and others talk with him at a cafe, Paul is irritated by their talk of what they do not know.
Paul's return home is not what he has imagined. The men have talked too much for him, he prefers to be alone, so that no one troubles him. Like a Hemingway character, Paul wants "just to sit quietly." Others understand, but they feel it only with words.
They fell it, but always with only half of themselves, the rest of their being is taken up with other things, they are so divided in themselves that none feels it with his whole essence; I cannot even say myself exactly what I mean.
Paul is disillusioned with the nothingness of some people's lives. He observes their occupations and wonders how such a narrow activity fill their lives. He goes to his room where he looks at his drawings and postcards that have pleased him. He looks at his books. Instead of the "quiet rapture" which he once felt with his books, Paul now feels only emptiness.