Paul’s mother becomes sadder as the end of Paul’s leave looms closer. Paul visits Kemmerich’s mother to deliver the news of her son’s death. She demands to know how he died. Paul lies to her by telling her that he died quickly with little pain and suffering.
Paul’s mother sits with Paul in his bedroom the last night of his leave. He tries to pretend that he is asleep, but he notes that she is in great physical pain. He urges her to return to bed. He wishes that he could weep in her lap and die with her. He also wishes that he had never come home on leave because it only awakens pain for himself and his mother.
Paul, Leer, and Kropp’s liaison with the three French women is an important psychological event in the novel. Most of Paul’s sexual experiences have occurred in the army brothels, depriving him of another part of his youth. Moreover, that he seeks refuge in the arms of the enemy—the women are French—is thematically appropriate. In a sense, his actions imply that the redemption he seeks cannot come from his leaders or his fellow Germans: they have pressured him into the horrific trenches and betrayed him; they offer him prostitutes in the army brothels and destroy his youthful innocence.
However, Paul’s woman does not offer him understanding or recognition of the value of his humanity. His romantic idealizations again clash with the harsh reality of the war that the young French woman represents: for her, Paul is nothing more than a passing, perhaps titillating, sentimental fantasy. She finds him attractive because he is young and lives in constant mortal danger on the front, but she loses interest upon hearing about his imminent leave. If she were never to see him again because he were returning to the front, he would be more exciting for her. While she wants him to be an abstract symbol, he wants her to see him as a human being. Similarly, the people at home who approach Paul do so because they want to be seen serving, or talking to, a soldier; for them, he is the representation of their romantic, patriotic ideals.
Like Kantorek and Himmelstoss, pompous, ridiculous, and power-hungry men, the major who humiliates Paul in public is yet another petty authority figure. He is obsessed with the distinctions and formalities of rank. Paul’s feelings of betrayal come to the surface: the authority figures that demanded he become a soldier and fight do not demonstrate any understanding or respect for him even after all of the sacrifices that he has made and the horror through which he has lived.
Paul’s reluctance to discuss with civilians his experiences in the trenches is due, in part, to his continuing need to maintain emotional distance from these terrible experiences. Putting his combat experiences and his reactions to them into words threatens the mental reserves that he will need when he returns to the front. His reluctance stems also from his knowledge that those who have never seen the ravages of trench warfare cannot possibly understand it; truthfully describing them might raise the risk of being branded unpatriotic. Lastly, Paul is a compassionate young man, and he fears that the truth about the war will cause pain for his family members, who, in their own way, are suffering as well.