Chapter 5 Summary
The soldiers are infested with lice and kill them by picking them off their clothes and sizzling them to death over a candle. It is a mindless task, and the men are preoccupied with the latest news. The rumor is true: Himmelstoss has arrived. They ponder what they will say to their former nemesis, and then talk to turns to the future. The idea of the war being over is almost too much to comprehend, but Katczinsky knows he will go home to his wife and children. Haie may, inexplicably to the others, stay in the army; he claims that digging trenches is better than digging peat. If there is no war, the army will at least provide him a decent living with free time in town in the evenings. Tjaden wants only to spend his time getting retribution on Himmelstoss. Detering simply wants to go back to his farm.
Himmelstoss arrives, takes one hesitant step when he sees this group ahead of him, then moves toward them with confidence. No one reacts to his presence. He is no longer the direct authority to whom they answer, and their attitudes reflect their disdain for their former taskmaster. Himmelstoss has been warned that some soldiers would like to put a bullet in his back, and not just men in this group. Tjaden insults him by calling him a “dirty hound,” and the reaction is immediate. Tjaden refuses to stand and salute Himmelstoss as his superior officer, and Himmelstoss marches off, threatening Tjaden with a court martial.
Again the conversation turns to post-war plans. Kropp gets them all thinking about all the rather pointless things they once studied, things that now seem far away from their realities. They did not finish their schooling before they volunteered, so if they ever want to go to university they must go back and finish school—something which is virtually impossible given where they are and what they have seen and experienced. When they think of jobs, those who have never had one find the prospect hard to consider after being in the military. They are truly at a loss when they consider what they will do once the war is over and their “real” lives begin: “Two years of shells and bombs—a man won’t peel that off as easy as a sock.” They decide their entire generation will wrestle with this issue. As Albert Kropp says, “The war has ruined us for everything.” They are no longer youth; instead, they have...
(The entire section is 635 words.)