All Quiet on the Western Front: Novel Summary: Chapter 5
As the men try to remove the lice from their bodies, they digest the news that Himmelstoss has been sent to join them. It will be the first time they have seen him since they gave him a beating, and they consider what they will say to him. Then they begin a discussion about what they would do if peace were suddenly to occur. The answers range from seeking out women, getting drunk, and returning home to parents. Haie says he would stay on in the army. Even digging trenches is not as bad as digging peat. He argues that life in the army in peacetime is a good life. Detering the farmer says he would go straight on with the harvest.
Himmelstoss arrives, and the men are all rude to him, and Himmelstoss does not know how to deal with the situation. After Tjaden insults him, Himmelstoss declares he will be court-martialed, but Tjaden is not worried about the threat.
M�ller, Kropp and Paul get into a discussion about what has happened to the twenty members of their class who enlisted in the army. Seven are dead, four are wounded, and one is in an insane asylum. They remember Kantorek their teacher and mock his pedantic ways. They agree that nothing they learned in school has been any use to them. They wonder what will happen to them when they go back to civilian life after the war. They have never had jobs and do not know what they will do. Paul in particular cannot imagine finding anything worthwhile to strive for. They agree that their entire generation is in the same boat.
They begin to play cards, reflecting that all they know how to do is play cards, swear, and fight. That is the limit of their horizons since becoming caught up in the war.
In the evening, Tjaden is tried for insubordination. The case is heard by the lieutenant of Second Company, Lieutenant Bertinck. Tjaden is treated fairly leniently, and is given three days' open arrest. Kropp, who has also insulted Himmelstoss, is given one days' open arrest. Open arrest is not a severe punishment. The men can receive visitors. Closed arrest would have meant being locked up in a cellar.
Kat and Paul decide to steal a goose from regimental headquarters. Paul gets more than he bargains for. There are two geese and they struggle hard against him. Then a bulldog comes in from outside and knocks him down. Paul manages to escape with one of the geese, and he and Kat roast it together. After they have eaten, they take some pieces to Kropp and Tjaden.
Structurally, this chapter serves as a quieter interlude between the battle action that was presented in chapter 4 and will resume in chapter 6.
The theme of comradeship emerges again in Paul and Kat's adventure in capturing and cooking the goose. Although they do not talk much, Paul states, "I believe we have a more complete communion with one another than even lovers have." This is in spite of the fact that the two men have little in common and know little about each other. They are drawn together only by their common situation as soldiers facing deadly dangers.
Another theme in this chapter is the disillusionment and hostility the soldiers feel for the older generation. This theme has already been introduced in chapter 1. It is focused on Kantorek, who is the representative figure of the older generation, with all its talk of patriotic duty, which has led only to the mass slaughter of the young men of Europe. The four classmates who joined Second Company because of Kantorek's persuasion now mock him mercilessly.
The disillusionment is linked to the theme of isolation. The soldiers of Second Company belong to an entire generation that has been cut off from its roots and has no future. They all know they will be marked forever by their experiences in the war. As Kropp says, "Two years of shells and bombs-a man won't peel that off as easy as a sock." Those that survived would later be known as the Lost Generation.