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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
The chapter begins with German soldiers at rest after fourteen days of fierce battle on the Western Front. A double ration of food has been prepared so the soldiers are eating their fill. Paul Baumer, the protagonist and narrator of the novel, watches in amazement as his friends, Tjaden and Muller, eat another helping; he wonders where Tjaden puts all the food, for he is as thin as a rail. Baumer is only nineteen years of age. He enlisted in the German infantry because Kantorek, his high school teacher, had glorified war and talked him into fighting for the fatherland. Kropp, Behm, and Leer, former classmates of Baumer, were also persuaded by Kantorek to join the infantry. They are all now fellow soldiers along with Tjaden, Westhus, Detering, and Katczinsky.
After a good night's rest, the soldiers are in line for breakfast. They are overjoyed that the cook has made food for one hundred and fifty men when there are only eighty of them; they again envision being able to eat all that they want. The cook, however, says that he can only distribute food for eighty; but the soldiers argue and overrule him. After breakfast, mail is distributed. Baumer and his friends stroll over to the meadow, located near the latrines. Baumer muses how embarrassed all of them were in the beginning to use the latrines that offered no privacy. Now all their modesty has vanished. Still, he believes that a "soldier is on friendlier terms than other men with his stomach and intestines. Three quarters of his vocabulary is derived from these regions."
Kantorek has written and sent a letter in which he calls his past students, now soldiers, "Iron Youth." Ironically, the young men, all of them around twenty years of age, are no longer youth; war has forced them to grow up beyond their young years. The old classmates talk about how they had idolized Kantorek while they were in school; now they hate him, blaming him for their misery. After all, he was the one who talked them into joining the military. They also blame him for the death of Josef Behm, one of their classmates who was the first of them to be killed. In truth, Baumer and his friends resent all authority at this point in their lives; the brutality of war that they have experienced has caused them to lose faith in the older adult generation.
The chapter next focuses on Franz Kemmerich, a friend of Baumer whose leg has just been amputated. He is in a makeshift hospital and in great pain; Kropp bribes an orderly to give him morphine to make him more comfortable. In spite of the pain, Kemmerich frets that his watch has been stolen by someone in the medical facility. His friends try to comfort him. Muller, however, has his eyes on Kemmerich's leather boots and tries to persuade Kemmerich to give them to him. Being the practical and logical one of the group, Muller feels that Kemmerich no longer has use for a matched pair. He also knows that one of the orderlies in the hospital will steal the boots, just as the watch was stolen. Moral decadence is obviously a by-product of the war.
It is obvious from the opening chapter that this novel will center on the war and the effects it has on a young group of soldiers, none of them more than twenty years of age. They are all friends and former classmates of Paul Baumer, the narrator and protagonist of the book; they have enlisted in the German infantry because their teacher, Kantorek, had painted for them a glorious picture of fighting and saving the homeland from destruction during World War I. In this first chapter, Baumer and his friends are away from the front lines, relaxing a bit after two weeks of fierce fighting. As each of the young men is introduced, it is apparent that they are tired, hungry, angry, and disillusioned over the war.
The young soldiers are miserable over their plight and cast blame on Kantorek. All of them have been in the midst of battle on the Western Front and have seen the horror and devastation caused by the fighting. One of their former classmates, Josef Behm, has already been killed; they partially blame Kantorek for his death as well. The only thing that makes the war tolerable is the bond of friendship that Kropp, Leer, Kemmerich, and Baumer have with one another; in fact, Baumer constantly uses the pronoun "we," depicting the close bond he feels with the others. When he speaks, it is as if he were speaking for the whole group: "we are satisfied" or "we cannot blame."
Although the story is told from the German point of view by a young German soldier, it is really not a novel about the German war effort. Remarque simply uses the German front line as the setting of the book because he knows about it from first hand experience. In truth, the book is meant to point out the horror, death, and destruction caused by war and its attendant effect on human beings, no matter their nationality; already these young men have aged prematurely, lost their modesty, and become immune to death, pain, and true emotion. Baumer's bitterness over his war experience is no different than for any young soldier who has dreamed of war as a glorious experience.
In addition to giving an insight into the wastefulness of war and into the degeneration of the young soldiers, this chapter points out the hardships that military men must endure during wartime. While fighting on the front lines, there is little time for anything but battle, and there is little food to eat. The only thing that keeps the young soldiers going is the comradeship they feel with one another. As they are killed, one by one, the mood sinks ever deeper into gloom, loss, isolation, and destruction.