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This chapter gives us some breathing space. We follow the men back to a field depot for reorganization. The change in Himmelstoss seems to be permanent: not only did he rescue Westhus; he has also wangled a job as substitute cook and slips Tjaden some butter and the others, sugar.
By this time we could make a list of the ways Remarque has developed his theme: how World War I destroyed a generation of young men. It has taken from them the last of their childhood years, it has destroyed their faith in their elders, it has taught them an individual life is meaningless-and all it has given in return is the ability to appreciate basic physical pleasures. According to Paul, though, the men haven't entirely lost human sensitivity: they're not as callous as they appeared in Chapter 1, wolfing down their dead companions' rations. It's just that they must pretend to forget the dead; otherwise they would go mad.
A theater poster starts a new series of events in this chapter. At the front, or even a few miles behind the lines, dirt and grime and basic survival are the main elements of life. The poster, showing a well-dressed, healthy pair of actors, reminds Paul and his classmates of another world out there somewhere, a civilian world. From history we know that civilians also did not fare well during World War I, but Paul and his friends don't know that; they have not yet gone home on leave. But the poster awakens desires. They try to recover that world in stages. The first stage is simple. They can't do much about their dirty, ragged, clothing, but they can stop the itching awhile- they get deloused. The next stage is better. That evening Leer, Kropp, and Paul dump Tjaden and swim a guarded canal for an evening with three French women. They do the same the next night, carrying the girls bread, sausage, and cigarets kept dry, overhead, in their boots. To us it is clear that the girls are hungry and do not care what uniform a man wears, as long as he's a decent guy and has some food. But Paul wants more; he wants the little brunet really to care about him personally.
One afternoon Paul stands the others drinks: he's been given two weeks' leave plus travel time and temporary reassignment to another camp. He tries to forget which of his friends will still be there when he gets back.
The train trip home provides Paul-and us-with a sense of transition to an entirely different kind of life, as old landmarks appear, even the poplars. He doesn't understand why tears start pouring down his face at the sound of his sister's voice calling to their mother, "Paul is here." Perhaps it is simply homesickness, catching up with him at last. His mother is ill with cancer, and Paul does the most he can for them, offering cheese from Kat and food from his own military rations. In the towns, shortages are acute, though his family has saved Paul his favorite dishes. One day he stands in line at the butcher's with his sister for three hours, but the promised bones are sold out before they can get any. He can't even talk to people any more. If he were to talk about front-line horrors, as another soldier has done, upsetting Paul's mother, how could he stand to go back?
On the whole, the leave he'd wanted so badly is a disaster. After he reports to the district commander, some major whom he fails to salute properly gives him a bad time. To avoid similar situations he changes into his civilian clothes, even though they hardly fit any more. His father and other old men press "the young warrior" with opinions and questions that don't begin to connect with his own knowledge of war. He can't even gain any comfort from the books and papers in his own room.
When he goes to see Franz Kemmerich's mother, she blames him for living while her son has died. In a gesture of kindness, he swears Kemmerich died instantaneously and without pain, but he has seen so many deaths since then that he forgets how he himself felt. He can no longer understand so much grief for one man dead among so many.
The only relief is a visit to his classmate Mittelstaedt, who is now the commander of a reserve unit. To his and Mittelstaedt's delight, Schoolmaster Kantorek is in the unit! He's an absolutely pathetic-looking soldier. Mittelstaedt demonstrates how he humiliates Kantorek and throws his own slogans back into his face. Not satisfied with that, he sends Kantorek on errands with a model reservist, Boettcher, the former school porter, so the whole town can laugh. The scene is comic, yet sad. Even though Paul doesn't blame Kantorek for anything, it's interesting that he doesn't seem to feel the slightest shame at his classmate's behavior. Is this still the same boy who, before his last stint in the trenches, found it sad that the only ambition he had left was to humiliate a mailman?
Finally, the last night of his leave arrives. His mother sits long into the night watching him sleep. At last he lets her know he is awake. She alone has not asked foolish questions. Now she asks gently, "Are you very much afraid?" He walks her back to bed, choked up at her getting him good wool underwear when she is so destitute and ill. He is in agony for what he has lost and for what is happening to her.
From history we know that in August 1914 the Prussian War Raw Materials Department began stockpiling and allocating raw materials on a priority basis. Civilians weren't high on the priority list. In November 1914 staple foods such as flour and sugar were placed under government control, and in 1915 complete food rationing was introduced in Germany.