Skip over navigation

All Quiet on the Western Front

Erich Maria Remarque

Chapter Five

Chapter Four

Chapter Six

Summary

Paul describes the unsanitary conditions of life at the front. Tjaden, tired of killing lice one by one, scrapes them off his skin into a boot-polish tin. He kills them by heating the tin with a flame. Haie’s lice have red crosses on their heads, and he jokes that he got them at a hospital where they attended the surgeon general.

Himmelstoss has arrived in the camp, proving the rumor true. He was caught tormenting his recruits excessively and has been sent to the front as punishment. Müller begins asking everyone what they would do if the war ended suddenly. Kropp says the war will not end, but Müller persists. Kat mentions his wife and children. The younger men mention women and getting drunk. Haie says that he would become a noncommissioned army officer since digging peat, his old job, is such a terrible occupation. Tjaden states that he would concentrate on getting revenge on Himmelstoss. Detering says that he would return to his farm.

Himmelstoss approaches the men, who rudely ignore him. He orders Tjaden to stand, but Tjaden moons him in response. Tjaden rushes off to hide before Himmelstoss returns with the authorities. Müller continues with his questions. They calculate that there are only twelve men left out of the twenty from their class who joined the army. Seven are dead, four are wounded, and one went insane. They mockingly recite questions that Kantorek shot at them in school. Paul cannot imagine what he will do after the war. Kropp concludes that the war has destroyed everything for them. They are not impetuous youths anymore but men perpetually on the run. They cannot believe in anything except the war.

Himmelstoss returns with the sergeant-major to punish Tjaden. Paul and the others refuse to tell him where Tjaden is hiding. The sergeant-major solves the problem by declaring that Tjaden must report to the Orderly Room within ten minutes. The men resolve to torment Himmelstoss at every opportunity. Himmelstoss returns later to demand that they tell him where Tjaden is. Kropp insults him, and Himmelstoss storms off.

Later that evening, Kropp and Tjaden are put on trial for insubordination. Paul and the others tell the court about Himmelstoss’s cruelty toward Tjaden during training. After hearing their story, the presiding lieutenant gives Tjaden and Kropp light punishments and lectures Himmelstoss about his behavior. Tjaden receives three days open arrest and Kropp receives one. Paul and the others visit them in the makeshift jail and play cards.

Kat and Paul bribe a driver of a munitions wagon with two cigarettes to take them back to the house where they heard the geese. Paul climbs over the fence and enters the shed to find two geese. He grabs both and slams their heads against the wall, hoping to avoid a commotion. The attempt fails, and the geese cackle and fight with him furiously before he manages to escape with one goose in hand. Kat kills it quickly, and they retreat to an unused lean-to to cook it, eating quickly for fear of their theft being discovered. They keep the feathers to make pillows. Paul feels an intimate closeness with Kat as they roast the goose. They eat their fill and take the rest to Tjaden and Kropp.

Analysis

Müller’s persistent questioning about his friends’ postwar plans reveals why the young generation of men who enlisted right out of school was termed “the lost generation” by Gertrude Stein, an American writer who spent much of her life in Paris. Older men who had prewar jobs and families regarded the war as an interruption in their lives that eventually would end. They had concrete identities and functions within society. Younger men, such as Paul and his classmates, had no such concrete identities. They entered the war when they were on the threshold of their adult lives. None of them have definite answers to Müller’s questions: they no longer have any conception of themselves apart from the war, emphasizing the theme of the war’s ravaging effect on the humanity of soldiers.

Remarque’s soldiers, like many members of the lost generation, regard the war as something that could not possibly end because they cannot imagine anything else. They thus conceive their adult identities as inextricably linked to their lives as soldiers. Haie gives the most definite postwar plans, but even his answer involves remaining in the army—he cannot imagine himself as anything but a soldier. Paul and his younger comrades cannot imagine functioning in civilian jobs after what they have seen and done. Their only definite plan for the future is to exact revenge upon Himmelstoss. Their curt answers to Müller’s questions betray a certain anxiety about the end of the war, as if they fear the end of the war as much as they fear the war itself. Thinking and planning for the future requires concrete forms of hope, but the horror of trench warfare doesn’t allow them to have hope for anything other than survival. They have no experiences as adults that do not involve a day-to-day struggle to survive and maintain sanity.

Although he is not particularly important to the novel’s narrative, Himmelstoss, like Kantorek, is a very significant figure in All Quiet on the Western Front because of what he reveals about the mentality of war. Paul and his friends observe repeatedly that war makes small, petty men become arrogant and hungry for power. Himmelstoss is the perfect example, a former mailman who becomes a fearsome bully simply because he is given military authority. Paul continually differentiates between the ceremonial, formal aspects of the army and the hellish chaos of actual battle. He sees little relation between parade drilling and saluting, on the one hand, and the madness of combat, on the other. Until he arrives at the front, Himmelstoss represents only the useless formal rituals of the army, demanding that men salute him on sight. Paul’s friends observe that the German army is losing the war because the soldiers know how to salute too well, implying that too much attention is paid to outmoded propriety and not enough to the actual techniques of fighting in a modern war.

Paul and his friends continue to form an extremely close-knit unit in this chapter. The novel simultaneously explores the horror of war and the intensity of soldiers’ friendships. Remarque suggests that peacetime social relationships can never approach the intimacy or intensity of a soldier’s bonds with other soldiers. Paul marvels at the flood of emotion that he experiences while roasting the stolen goose with Kat. He and Kat would never have known one another in peacetime, but the war has brought their lives together in a crucible of horror. Their shared suffering makes peacetime concerns and concepts of friendship pale by comparison. In many ways, the bond forged between soldiers in trench warfare is the only romanticized element of Remarque’s spectacularly unromantic novel.

More Help

Previous Next
Kemmerich's Corkscrew Nails

by OverlyDramatic, August 14, 2012

Early in the book, before Kemmerich's death, Paul pictures the man's nails and growing after his death, into long spirals and corkscrews. While this is a powerful visual, it is not true. A corpse's skin shrinks away from its nails and hair after death, giving the appearance of increased length. Sorry if I grossed you out, but that was on my test and I thought you should know just in case.

2 Comments

59 out of 85 people found this helpful

If you are here from COACH RICE'S class *READ*

by UltimateJBFan98, March 31, 2013

Okay. Here is my advice to you. Read all through SparkNotes as you read through the book. I was soo confused til I looked on SparkNotes. But of course I looked over Spring Break right before the final test! It is a good book when you understand it TRUST ME! Yah -Sydney

1 Comments

34 out of 68 people found this helpful

-

by TonmaiTree, October 01, 2013

This is really helpful, thanks!

0 Comments

3 out of 4 people found this helpful

See all 4 readers' notes   →

Follow Us