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All Quiet on the Western Front

All Quiet on the Western Front

by Erich Maria Remarque

All Quiet on the Western Front Chapter 4 Summary

  • The men are sent on a mission to lay barbed wire at the front slow the approach of the enemies.
  • Noisy trucks ferry them forward with the wire. They are joined by many other troops, each with their own particular missions.
  • They pass noisy geese and all eyes turn to Kat for leadership in hunting and cooking them after a successful mission.
  • Our narrator talks about the natural fog of the area blending with the gunpowder smoke and the exhaust of the motorcar engines.
  • Paul outlines how they are "embraced" by the Front. It is not fear – only newbies feel fear; Paul and gang have thick skin now.
  • Kat believes that there will be a bombardment tonight – he can identify the caliber of the guns – a twelve-inch gun has a unique sound.
  • Those large guns carry a long way – they can reach bunkers. Kat knows it will be a long night.
  • Suddenly three shells land near them. The earth feels like it's quaking.
  • Under Kat's suggestion, the troops are certain that they will be bombed tonight and they steel themselves for it.
  • Paul describes the Front as a mysterious whirlpool with a "vortex" sucking him in. He talks about the earth as friendly to a soldier who relies on it for movement, cover, and mapping.
  • He says, "Earth! Earth! Earth!" (4.24), almost as if praying to it. This is as close as anything gets to a prayer in All Quiet on the Western Front.
  • He talks about animal instincts of fear and self-preservation guiding them amidst the shelling: "We reach the zone where the front begins and become on the instant human animals" (4.26).
  • They arrive at the front and the motorcars that carried them there leave. Vast loneliness and independence flood them. They walk forward in moonlight, seeking their point area to begin laying the barbed wire as part of their mission.
  • They pass shell holes described almost like scars on the earth – a stark contrast to the earth as described in motherly terms just a few pages earlier.
  • When they get within yards of the front they are given the order for "pipes and cigarettes out" because they are so close to the enemy, the smell of that smoke would give away their positions.
  • Suddenly the sky lights up with bombs and fire – the bombardment begins. They are being hit hard.
  • Paul describes the bombardment almost as if it is alive, an evil animal, hissing.
  • There are planes involved as well – searchlights sweep the sky: "one of them pauses, and quivers a little. Immediately a second is beside him, a black insect is caught between them and tries to escape – the airman. He hesitates, is blinded and falls" (4.40).
  • The men unravel the barbed wire; Paul tears his hand.
  • The process takes a few hours.
  • His mates sleep a few hours, but it is too cold for Paul to sleep.
  • Finally, he does fall asleep, but is awakened suddenly, terrifyingly, from new bombs and striped lights in the sky.
  • Kat says, "Mighty fine fire-works if they weren't so dangerous" (4.45).
  • One bomb lands very close to Kat and Paul, and Kat quickly puts out his pipe, noting how its glow creates a target for the bombers.
  • The men crawl away under heavy fire, passing bodies. Some are dead; a few are alive and terrified.
  • One new recruit is frozen, crying, childlike. To Paul he looks like the recently dead Kemmerich.
  • The recruit shudders again and again under the loud bomb noises.
  • Paul realizes the reason for the recruit's unwillingness to move – he has gone to the bathroom in his pants.
  • Paul makes it clear that he is not going to adopt the cruelties of Himmelstoss and the other authority figures, and just tells the recruit to go behind a bush and throw out his skivvies and not to feel ashamed.
  • Paul continues walking back from the bombing – he and Albert hear the screeching whinny of wounded horses.
  • Detering, a loving farmer, is most bothered by the horses agonized cries and begs out loud for somebody to "Shoot them! For God's sake! Shoot them!" (4.60)
  • Kat explains that the medics must look after the men first – so the horses must suffer.
  • One horse's guts have been ripped out; the horse trips over his own guts, and keeps running.
  • Detering raises his gun to put the horse out of its misery – Kat asks, "Are you mad?" (4.64). Firing a gun would give away their position to the enemy and put the men in danger.
  • Detering gives up and suffers the noises. And finally, when they are silenced, he asks, "Like to know what harm they've done." (4.71)
  • Troop 9 gets ready to go back to barracks back from the Front; they wait for the motorcars.
  • They come upon a mist-heavy area of bombed out craters – Kat is quiet, which is not a good sign.
  • Suddenly, everything seems to explode. Bombs everywhere. Trees shatter and splinter.
  • Paul describes the darkness as having come to life and attacking them, driving them mad.
  • The earth appears to be wounded, human-like, now raining dirt clods on the men from the bombs.
  • One percussion cracks Paul on the skull and he is on edge of losing consciousness.
  • He flings himself down on mother earth for protection, inside a hole made by a previous bomb.
  • He half wakes up and feels an arm – "a wounded man?" (4.87) he wonders – but the man is dead; his body was presumably what Paul had landed on when he jumped into that bomb crater.
  • And then he realizes that the body is part of many in the graveyard they have stumbled upon.
  • The shelling gets stronger and Paul as our narrator capitalizes Death as a living character, lying in wait for the men.
  • The men try to avoid it – a gas bomb is dropped and they struggle for their masks. It takes Kat shaking Paul to make him realize he has to put on his mask quickly.
  • Under the mask, Paul barely recognizes his closest friend Kat.
  • Paul recalls the burnt-lung victims side by side in the hospital. He breathes in his vale cautiously.
  • They crawl along the graveyard floor, looking for shelter, and come upon a loose coffin lid.
  • The men open the heavy lid and throw out the body so that they can climb inside for protection from the bombs. The body is then blown up by a nearby bomb, "having died twice."
  • Paul notes a random leg lying in a field; he can't find the body of whoever owned it.
  • Paul sees a newbie recruit walking around without a mask – he hates his and tears it off.
  • The shelling has stopped. The men lift a wounded soldier. His hip is covered with blood – the man seems close to death and is bleeding from many places.
  • Kat tries to bandage him and, as Paul comforts, he realizes that this is the new recruit that he had encountered earlier (the one who messed his pants).
  • Kat tells the boy to stay there as the men prepare to get him a stretcher. The boy is in such bad shape, Kat suggests that they get a gun and finish him off mercifully.
  • The narrator notes what little of life will be left to the youngster, even if he survives through enormous pain.
  • Even Paul agrees that they should euthanize him, but they have to do it quickly.
  • And then it is too late – others arrive on the scene.
  • They realize the boy will get the stretcher and will probably die a very painful and slow death.
  • The narrator notes that their losses are less than expected – only five killed and eight wounded.
  • They go back silently to the motor cars so that they can go "home."
  • It rains.
  • They think about the dead who have fallen before them as they drive carefully through areas wired for defense.

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