Study Guide

All Quiet on the Western Front Chapter 7

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Chapter 7

  • Paul's company needs to regroup.
  • The men loaf around – even Himmelstoss has mellowed. The men have gained a bit of respect for him for his having helped bring in Haie Westhus after Haie was so badly injured.
  • Himmelstoss announces that he is taking over for an injured cook and brings the men sweets.
  • Paul notes that now they have the two things a soldier needs for contentment: good food and good rest.
  • Paul reflects on habit as being a definition of change, not repetition in its classical sense. One day in mortar fire, another day foraging for food, another day in transit.
  • He muses on their turning into animals to survive the Front, wanting to live at any price, and he lists all of the men he knew who could not pay that price.
  • Paul waxes about the frailties of life, that "Life is short."
  • A poster of a beautiful girl gets the soldiers' attention.
  • While swimming on their break, the soldiers see a few French women who look hungry.
  • The men cat-call but the women don't speak German and they don't appear to be all that interested in the boys…
  • …until Tjaden holds up a large piece of army bread, at which point the women wave over the men hungrily.
  • As it is forbidden to cross the river – guards would shoot them if caught – they have to figure out a clever way to cross and to visit the ladies.
  • They make the international sign for sleep and it becomes clear that they will come visit later that night.
  • The men now appear to the reader as boys, awkward, nervous, fidgety, even hopeful. They sweat over what foods, cigarettes, and so on they will bring the women.
  • The men stuff their clothes in their water-tight boots and swim naked across the river.
  • They worry that there are other military officers with the ladies – and if there are, they decide to run away.
  • The door opens and they are welcomed. The women unwrap the food and eat ravenously.
  • The men understand few French words, and fold themselves into a good old-fashioned love session.
  • Paul is the only one who appears conflicted, unable to fully enjoy this moment as his desires are painted as "strangely compounded of yearning and misery."
  • He notes how different this intimate gathering feels as compared to the officers' brothels; here the intimacy is private, quiet, and soft.
  • The men reconvene to swim back across the river, noting that the experience was worth more than their army-loaf price of admission.
  • As they leave, they duck as another soldier approaches the house where the French ladies live – it's Tjaden.
  • Paul is called to the Orderly Room (magistrate) in the morning, where he is given a pass to go on vacation for a total of seventeen days.
  • He buys drinks for his friends and bemoans that on the way home he will be sent to a training camp next to a Russian prison camp for a few weeks, meaning that he will be out of Front circulation for six weeks.
  • Paul rides the train home.
  • His journey is a transition from scarred broken earth to picturesque farms and carefully manicured homes.
  • Paul finds his home and creaks up the stairs. He is greeted by his loving sister, Erna, who finds him crying. It's because he's surrounded by the safety of his childhood home, which forms such a contrast to the hellish world of the Front.
  • He finds his mother in bed, sick with cancer. The source of his mother's illness is internal, rather than being scarred from the outside like that of his young friends, bombed in trenches.
  • Paul feels her love, even though his family is not very openly affectionate.
  • The fact that Paul's mother calls him her "dear boy" (7.125) is a much bigger deal, he notes, than it would be in another family.
  • Paul offers Edam cheese and they connect over food.
  • His mother asks suddenly, "Was it very bad out there?" (7.134) and Paul can only lie. He minimizes stories his mother has heard from other mothers who, in turn, have heard how terrible life is at the Front.
  • But it is her absolute lack of understanding that distances him, his realization that he could not even possibly explain a moment of what life is really like at the Front.
  • Paul reports to the District Commandant and walks through his old village. Order and safety and quiet are pervasive here.
  • As a result, Paul is stunned when he passes a Major and forgets to salute. The Major, clearly not someone who has spent any time in real battle at the Front, makes him march as punishment.
  • Paul is furious, but rather than cause an even bigger fuss, obeys the Major, who then softens up when he feels he is being shown respect. He is clearly another flavor of Himmelstoss.
  • Paul returns home and puts on one of his old suits – he has grown in the army and that suit is tight.
  • He looks strange to himself in the mirror.
  • His mother likes him better in civilian clothes, but his father would prefer he remain in military garb so he can be paraded to be shown off to his father's friends. This is Paul's father – another example of the shallow authority figures thoroughly derided in this book.
  • Paul refuses the parading.
  • Paul sits in a beer-garden, watching the leaves fall.
  • He is struck by his alienation from it. He can not relax into it, can not be a part of it, and can only observe little details and elements, but he's emotionally distant.
  • Paul's father appears further as a lout, asking salacious questions about the edges of the Front, gory details which dehumanize the very real human beings who died for "ideals."
  • Paul runs into his old teacher, who skates over how truly terrible things are at the Front with "Terrible, terrible, eh?" and other light treatments of events which demand respect.
  • Paul makes the mistake of accepting a cigar and now must stay as long as it is lit, so he smokes it as fast as he can, like a chimney, to be able to move on and be left alone.
  • As he inhales, he listens to the others gathered there talk about the war like it is a sport, and he is repulsed.
  • Paul begins to regret having come home for leave. He muses that he thought he was in foreign lands at the Front, but this feels even more foreign to him. He longs to be alone – the men here don't hold a candle to the raw and honest humanity which Kat, Albert, Müller, and Tjaden express. He misses them.
  • Paul sits in his room. He reviews posters he'd hung in his youth, newspaper clippings that once meant something to him, classical books and plays that seek ideals that seem laughably wasteful in the face of the war.
  • He longs for the feelings of innocence he had as a child, recalling how thrilled he felt reading those literary works, how he cannot ignore enough things now to climb back down to that cozy ignorance that he once lived inside.
  • Paul realizes that he must soon go to see Kemmerich's mother. He wants to put it off as long as possible.
  • But as he sits alone in his room, it too seems to turn on him and he is alienated by the feelings the room conjures in him. He cannot escape his surroundings because they have pervaded his interior.
  • In almost desperation, he pulls out a book and tries to read, but the words are just words; they aren't telling stories. When he can no longer handle the quiet, he leaves.
  • On his walk, Paul visits Mittelstaedt in the army barracks. Mittelstaedt gives him the news that his old teacher Kantorek, the defender of Fatherland ideals, has been called up to the Front.
  • Paul is delighted that Kantorek will see what he has been espousing and defending to naïve, easily-influenced students. Paul wants to remind him of his pushing Joseph Behm to enlist and that Joseph is now dead because of him.
  • Paul and Mittelstaedt walk to the field grounds where they see Kantorek looking ridiculous, marching in a dramatically oversized uniform.
  • Mittelstaedt stops Kantorek and chides him militarily for his ludicrous appearance.
  • Mittelstaedt puts Kantorek through embarrassing drill practices, the best of which was a Himmelstoss trick where the company leader would be twenty paces ahead of the company, then, when the company reversed direction, the leader would have to run fast to get to the lead again, only to have direction changed again.
  • Mittelstaedt unloads academic phrases at Kantorek as if they will help his difficult labors now.
  • Paul asks if Kantorek has reported Mittelstaedt's somewhat abusive behavior, but is informed that the commander has a dislike for schoolteachers and also notes that Mittelstaedt is dating his daughter.
  • Mittelstaedt has nothing but contempt for Kantorek either.
  • Paul muses on the term "leave" (vacation). He counts his days, hours, time, increasingly anxious to get back to the Front – it is as if the Front is now his real home.
  • Paul leaves, with four days' vacation left, to see Kemmerich's mother.
  • The narrator notes that he cannot write it down. Perhaps her grief was so striking, he could not drink it in, stream it onto the page. The quaking sobbing woman asks Paul, "Then why are you alive and he is dead?"
  • Paul has no answer. She asks how he died.
  • Paul lies that he was shot through the heart and died immediately. She does not believe him; he spends great pains convincing her of the short suffering of her son. He has no ethical qualms about lying to her and agrees to swear it on anything sacred she would put in front of him.
  • He leaves and she gives him a picture of her son to remember him by, as if Paul needed it.
  • His last evening at home, Paul goes to bed early in a quiet home. He questions whether he will ever lie in this feather bed again.
  • His mother comes in and watches him; he knows she is worried, but he doesn't want to talk about what he is about to do.
  • Almost comically compared to what he has already been through, she warns him about those women in France, to be careful…
  • And almost as a prayer, we see his inner pleadings to his mother, asking her to let him return to his innocence, his youth, and just be her son and be happy and whole and fulfilled by the world of his little home, his little village.
  • Paul cannot do that and he relies on basic things like warmth and the promise of food to comfort him, as he must leave early in the morning.
  • He is sorry he ever came "home" for leave – he recalls softness and love and kindness here through her and he knows that he must let these feelings go if he is to be a soldier, a survivor of the Front.

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