Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1021
The Second Company needs more than a hundred new soldiers to replace those they lost. The group is relaxing, and even Himmelstoss tries to join the camaraderie. Paul and most of the others are willing to give him grace because he brought Haie to them after he was wounded. Tjaden is still not friendly until Himmelstoss takes over the cook’s duty and gives the men fine food and gifts. They have rest and plenty of food, the two things every soldier needs to be content. The experiences of the battlefield do not go away; however, they cannot afford to dwell on them. It seems as if the war is not on their minds at all, but in fact it never goes away.
They are staying in houses near a canal—on the other side of which are women. One evening while some of the men are swimming, three women stroll along the edge of the water. There is not much actual conversation because of the language barrier, but the men agree to meet the women at a house that evening although there are guards posted on the bridge and crossing into enemy territory is forbidden. They promise to bring what food they can, then they head back to their barracks in anticipation of their night with these women. Unfortunately there are four men and only three women, so they ply Tjaden with rum in the hope of knocking him out for the night. They pack some bread, cigarettes, and liver sausage as gifts for the ladies; place the gifts in their boots (which they hold over their heads); and swim across the canal naked.
When they arrive, the women laugh at them and toss them some clothing. Paul tries to forget about everything in the arms of the petite brunette speaking French words into his ear. As the three men leave, they see Tjaden sneaking, naked, up to the same door they just left.
Paul has been given fourteen days’ leave plus travel time, then he is to report to a training camp. He will be gone for six weeks. Although he is glad that he is not going back to the front right away, he wonders if he will ever again see his friends. Paul takes a long series of trains before he sees the landscape near his home. Although he recognizes everything, nothing is familiar to him. As he walks through town he is flooded with memories of his youth.
The first person he sees at home is his older sister, who calls to his mother that her son is home. Paul is paralyzed with emotion and starts to cry. He composes himself before he goes to his mother’s room. She has been ill and is in bed; it may be cancer. They are not a particularly demonstrative family, and they do not talk much. Paul knows this is his home and his family “but I am not myself here. There is a distance, a veil between us.”
Things have been difficult for his family during the war, and the rations he brings are a great help to them. His mother asks if it was very bad. Paul has no real way to answer her honestly, so he minimizes the experience, telling her it was not so very bad despite what she has heard. He tries not to worry her. Paul must contact the district commander while he is home, and on his way he meets a pompous army major who, offended that Paul does not show him proper respect, humiliates Paul on the street. When he arrives back home, Paul changes to his civilian clothes, which are now too small and quite unfamiliar but better than being recognized on the street in uniform.
He enjoys the freedom of sitting quietly and drinking a beer, but he is not dealing well with people. His mother asks no questions but his father wants to know everything. If Paul has to formulate all his experiences into words, it is likely he will not be able to live with them, so he tells some amusing anecdotes and tries to escape the questioning; he even lies when he must. A former teacher he meets is convinced that civilians are suffering deprivation so soldiers can have the best. Paul does not disabuse him of this romantic notion. This man is convinced the soldiers only have to work a little harder to finally achieve peace. When Paul hints that things may be more difficult than he has been led to believe, the man laughs at Paul and tells him that perhaps he is just in a hot spot and needs to see the bigger picture.
This leave is not what Paul had imagined. The “normal” world both attracts and repels him. He has seen too much and is out of place here. In his room he contemplates his many books and hopes they will take him back to his youth. Instead, his “disquietude grows.” It all seems foreign to him; he is disconnected from who he used to be. Paul visits a former schoolmate, Mittelstaedt, who is now the superior officer to their former schoolmaster, Kantorek. Mittelstaedt uses every opportunity to humiliate the man who once used every opportunity to humiliate him. Paul and his sister stand in line for hours at the slaughterhouse, hoping for some bones. They have no luck, but Paul is still able to get his rations so his family will not starve. Only four days of leave remain, and Paul knows he must visit Kemmerich’s mother. It does not go well. Paul lies to her, assuring her that her son died quickly and painlessly. He almost convinces himself.
Before Paul leaves, he tries to comfort his mother by telling her he will try to get a job where he does not have to go to the front lines and he will stay away from women. In return, he asks her to get well before he comes home again. On his last night of leave, he understands he should not have come home. It is simply too painful.
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