All Quiet on the Western Front
by Erich Maria Remarque
All Quiet on the Western Front Chapter 8 Summary
- Paul is sent back to the base where he did his basic training with Himmelstoss and Tjaden, but he knows almost nobody there now.
- He mechanically goes through his refresher military drill training and spends his evenings reading.
- He notes the beauty of the surrounding wood and the colors as nature changes seasons.
- Next to camp is a large Russian prison camp, filled with prisoners who seem nervous and fearful of the soldiers. They pick over garbage tins for food and seem to barely stay alive.
- Paul is struck to see "these enemies of ours" who look so much like him, like the rural Germans who make up the backbone of the country. They beg for things to eat and shiver in silence.
- Some of the Germans are friendly; some treat the prisoners as sport, kicking them every now and then to see if they will fall over.
- The prisoners come to the fence each night to make trades, usually things like boots for bread – a common trade, as their boots are good and the German boots are bad.
- But many of the Russians have already bartered away most of their clothing for food and now have little left. They have tried to manufacture pitiful pieces of clothing or bands made of gun shells to barter for food. They don't get much for these goods even though they have "taken immense pains to make them."
- Paul feels their pain; through all of the harshness of his Front life thus far, he has remained soft inside.
- Paul is often put on guard over the Russians. They rarely speak and use only a few words when they do. They are listless, sick with dysentery, and sullen. "Their life is obscure and guiltless" (8.10).
- This thinking frightens Paul – these thoughts will soften Paul at the Front where he must view the world as friends versus enemies, and fight with aggression and cold delivery.
- Paul does, however, give the Russians cigarettes; they bow to him in thanks.
- Days pass and it seems that each day another Russian dies. Paul guards the burials. He hears their hymns and this makes him feel closer to them.
- On the last Sunday before going back to the Front, Paul's father and sister visit him in his barracks. Those hours are torture for him, with nothing to speak about. The best topic they can come up with is his mother's illness – they know it is cancer.
- His father's focus is not knowing how much the operation will cost, and Paul keenly observes that the poor are afraid to ask prices in advance for fear of alienating the surgeon; the wealthy ask as a matter of course.
- That evening Paul intends to give the cakes his mother made for him to the Russians, but then he realizes that she probably spent many pain-filled hours preparing them, so he only gives the Russians two.
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