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One night the men were trucked to the front to ram in iron stakes and to string barbed wire. It's a warm evening, a pleasant drive, and the men smoke as they roll along. They're not concerned about lurching into potholes the driver can't see without headlights. Many a man would just as soon be pitched out and sent home with a broken arm earned that way! Kat and Paul distinctly hear geese as they pass one house. They exchange glances-another Katczinsky raid is due when they return! At the front, they find the air acrid, with guns reverberating and shells whistling and exploding. The English have started early. Kat senses a bombardment coming, and at the front his opinion is gospel. Paul already feels as if he's entered a whirlpool which is sucking him into its spinning depths. Only clinging to the ground helps; the earth is like a mother offering shelter.
NOTE: APOSTROPHE TO EARTH
In the paragraph following "Earth!- Earth!- Earth!," Paul prays directly to the earth. The name of this poetic device or rhetorical figure of speech is apostrophe. It is an address to an absent, abstract, or inanimate being. When that being is a god, the technique is called invocation. Read the paragraph carefully. Could it be considered an invocation? If so, what additional weight does this lend to Paul's thought in the preceding paragraph, "To no man does the earth mean so much as to the soldier"?
The men become alert animals, throwing themselves to the ground instinctively just before a storm of fragments flies overhead. It is not conscious, but without obeying this animal insight, no soldier would survive. Columns of men move past into the mist like a dark wedge. Gleaming horses pass with the ammunition wagons, their riders looking like knights of another age. Paul and his group load up with iron stakes and rolls of barbed wire, and they stumble all the way to the front line in the dark. Bombardment lights the sky. Amid the sounds of the bombardment, Paul and his group string barbed wire.
The technique in which the sound of a word imitates its meaning is called onomatopoeia, as in the word hiss. Find other onomatopoetic words in Paul's description of the sounds of bombardment, both in this paragraph and in paragraphs later in the chapter. What effect do these words have on your awareness of what it must have been like at the front? If you were filming this novel, how would you create these sounds?
Finally, after hours of work, the job is done: the barbed wire has been strung. Paul's hands are torn from handling the close- set spikes, and the night has turned cold. Shells are still shrieking and pounding overhead, and beams of light sweep through the overhead mist. One searchlight pins an airman like a bug, and he is shot down. The scene assaulting our eyes and ears is terrifying-misty, steaming, roaring hell-but what happens to Paul? He falls sound asleep! Our picture of Paul fills out: he is that experienced, old soldier he claims to be, knowing when he is in danger and when he is not. Still, he awakens confused.
Momentarily, he mistakes the glare of rockets for gala fireworks at a party. He doesn't know where he is or whether it's day or night; he feels like a lost child. But Katczinsky is sitting protectively near, calmly smoking a pipe. He tells Paul it's all right; it was just a shell landing nearby that startled him. He sounds for all the world like a daddy comforting a child who's had a nightmare. Paul, in turn, acts like a kindly father when a frightened recruit creeps right into his arms. The blond boy hides his head, and his thin little shoulders remind Paul of Kemmerich. Paul gently moves the youngster's fallen helmet to his buttocks where it will protect him best. Moments later a new bombardment so terrifies the boy that he empties his bowels, and he blushes with shame. But Paul offers no ridicule-he just sends him behind a bush to throw away his underpants.