Compared to the grim tone of the preceding chapters, the scenes in the evacuated village are full of a certain bitter comedy. Paul and his friends make use of the opportunity to celebrate and live a charmed life because the chances to relax and become human are so few and far between. While Paul’s decision to stay and finish his pancakes while bombs are falling around the kitchen seems insane, there is an appropriately demented logic to it: pancakes are his favorite dish, and he might well die the next day and thus never have them again.
There is, of course, a dark side to this scene. Paul and his friends are so used to being bombed and shot at that they can actually maintain the nerve to protect their meal during the bombardment. Moreover, they are so starved and hungry for real food that they are actually willing to risk their lives for it. At the same time, their antics while guarding the supply dump provide some hope. Remarque seems to imply that despite the ravages of war, small elements of humanity and human folly can survive the trenches.
The ride in the train with Kropp is also full of grim humor. Despite the dirtiness and coarseness of life in the trenches, Paul still suffers from a boyish modesty in his reluctance to tell one of the nurses that he needs to go to the bathroom. He doesn’t want to lie in the bunks because the sheets are so clean and he is so dirty. In this way, Remarque demonstrates that though the war has in many ways destroyed Paul’s innocence, Paul still retains a vestige of modesty in unfamiliar settings. The hospital scene also contains moments when Paul’s boyish innocence shows signs of surviving. He throws a bottle at the door in order to force the nuns to shut it when they pray, but another man takes the blame because he has a medical condition that induces irrational, impetuous outbursts. Paul and the other patients react with glee when they discover this condition, because they know that they can commit all sorts of mischief.
The rest of the chapter continues to explore the extent to which humanity can survive the horrors of war. Lewandowski’s feverish anticipation of his wife’s visit demonstrates that human concerns can indeed weather the trenches. Moreover, the help that he gets in carrying out his plan shows the extraordinary level of familiarity and intimacy that soldiers share with one another, revealing the intense comradeship and understanding among the soldiers.
Another sign in this chapter of the brutality of war is the fact that the hospital is filled with men suffering from permanently disfiguring injuries. There are wards for soldiers suffering from poison gas injuries, amputations, blindness, and various other wounds. The hospital is a museum of the vast array of maiming and lethal injuries to which the human body is subject in modern warfare. The most succinct and shocking evidence of the human costs of war can be seen there. Remarque has Paul think that anyone who wants to learn about the war should visit a hospital. Paul is confident that such an experience would be a far better way to understand the actual meaning of war than to listen to idealistic rhetoric about patriotism and honor.