What does Himmelstoss do to try to make up to Paul and his friends in All Quiet on the Western Front?

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dymatsuoka eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In order to try to make up to Paul and his friends, Himmelstoss grants them special privileges when he takes the place of the sergeant-cook, who has gone away on leave.  Himmelstoss treats the men at the canteen when they are "out of funds", and brings them gifts, including "two pounds of sugar...and a half-pound of butter".  He also sees to it that they "are detailed...to the cook-house for potato and turnip peeling", so that they can enjoy "grub" there that is "real officers' fare" (Chapter 7).

In civilian life, Himmelstoss had been a postman, but when he entered the military he was given the post of drill-sergeant.  As often happens when a man who has been "insignificant" until that point is given authority over others, the sense of power immediately went to his head.  Himmelstoss became an abusive drill-sergeant, and was hated by Paul and the other soldiers under his command (Chapter 3).

Things changed when the unit was transferred to the front.  Under combat conditions, Himmelstoss quickly learned that "the front-line isn't a parade ground".  Even though he was technically a "superior officer", Himmelstoss could not exact any punishment upon the men for insolence that was worse than being under constant bombardment by the enemy.  The men felt free to vent their hostility, thwarting Himmelstoss's pompous attempts to assert his authority (Chapter 5).

Himmelstoss had ruled over the men during training simply because the power had been given to him; he had in no way earned their respect.  It is only after he proves his character by courageously bringing Haie Westhus in from the field when he was hit in the back, and begins to treat the men decently when he secures the job at the canteen, that Paul and his friends begin to look upon him in a different light (Chapter 7).

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All Quiet on the Western Front

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