All Quiet on the Western Front: Novel Summary: Chapter 7
Paul and his company are back at a field depot for reorganization. The following day they are to return to the front. They eat, drink, smoke and sleep, and make the best of their situation. In the evening Paul, Kropp, Leer and Tjaden go swimming, since the houses where they are billeted are near a canal. Three French women walk by the bank, and the men exchange banter with them. The women beckon them to come over to the opposite bank, but the men know that is forbidden, and that there are sentries on the watch. The women indicate the house where they live, and the men say they will come that night, when the guards cannot see them. The women make it clear that the men should bring bread with them.
Paul, Kropp and Leer decide to exclude Tjaden from their adventure (since there are only three women). They make him drunk and he falls asleep. They swim across the river and arrive at the house of the women, who are pleased to receive the food the men bring. Then the three men and three women retire to separate rooms and make love. Before morning, they return undetected to their temporary barracks, passing Tjaden on the way. Tjaden wants to get in on the fun, but he is far too late.
The company's return to the front has been delayed, and Paul is given fourteen days' leave, as well as three days for traveling. After one more night with the girl across the canal, Paul takes the train and starts his leave. After a long journey he is back in his hometown. He walks around town as his memories revive. He knows every part of it. At his home, his eldest sister greets him, and for a moment he is overcome with emotion. Then he goes to his mother, who is sick and lies in bed. The three of them talk, and Paul gives them the food he has brought. When his mother inquires about how bad it is in the war, Paul tells her it is not so bad. He does not want to burden her with the truth.
As the days of his leave pass, Paul finds it hard to get along with people. His father irritates him by always asking about the front. He is curious about it, but Paul does not want to talk about his experiences. Then he encounters his German schoolteacher, whose idiotic comments show how ignorant he is about the war. The man takes Paul to a table in a beer-garden where Paul meets more men who are eager to expound on the political aspects of the war. They are very friendly to Paul and buy him drinks, but he dislikes the conversation. He gently suggests that the war may be rather different than people think, and is told that he knows nothing about it.
As Paul leaves he realizes that he does not belong there any more. People think they know all about the war, whereas in truth they know nothing. Paul decides he prefers to be alone. He can no longer understand the kind of lives people lead in his own hometown. Their aims and desires seem incomprehensible to him. He sits alone in his room, surrounded by all the books that had delighted him before the war, but none of them can interest him now. He is completely cut off from his former life.
He visits his friend Mittelstaedt, who tells him that Kantorek, their former schoolmaster, has been called up to the Territorial, a kind of home guard. Mittelstaedt is the commander of the unit. Mittelstaedt tells Paul how much he enjoys having command over the pompous schoolmaster. Paul goes to the parade-ground, where he is greatly amused to see Kantorek, in an ill-fitting uniform, struggling to keep up with the drill as Mittelstaedt upbraids him continually.
Near the end of his leave, Paul visits Kemmerich's mother, to tell her of her son's death. He tells her that Kemmerich died instantly, without suffering, even though he knows this is untrue. The distraught mother does not at first believe him, but he swears he is telling the truth.
The night before he is to leave for four weeks at a training camp, he and his mother bid each other a touching farewell. Paul is so wrenched by their parting that he wishes he had not come home on leave.
This chapter is the only one that takes the reader away from the front, to a more fully human world. It also demonstrates more clearly than ever how cut off Paul is from his former life. He had informed the reader of this before, but now we see it for ourselves.
Remarque carefully prepares the reader for the different turn in the narrative through the incident in which Paul and his friends see the poster advertising the army theater. On the poster is a lovely girl in a light summer dress. The thoughts of the men turn to a subject that had not occupied them before, and this paves the way for the sexual adventure with the Frenchwomen that immediately follows. But even this pleasant diversionary activity cannot make Paul entirely forget the war, although he tries his hardest to do so. This is conveyed in the poetic passage in which Paul gazes into the face of his new lover: "How various is a face; but an hour ago it was strange and now it is touched with a tenderness that comes, not from it, but out of the light, the world and the blood, all these things seem to shine in it together." The key word here is "blood." Paul is away from the front, but he carries the front with him, and everything he does is affected by it.
When Paul goes on leave, the themes of isolation, of the "lost generation," and the hostility toward the older generation are made apparent once more. Paul is marooned in a No Man's Land of his own. He feels himself to be a different person than the one he had been just a year ago. The fact that he does not recognize himself in the mirror in his civilian clothes is a visual symbol of how cut off he is from his former life. He repeatedly tells himself that he is at home, but however many times he repeats this, he does not feel it. His own world has become a thing foreign to him.