Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version | Barron's Booknotes
The soldiers return to their huts. They pass their time killing lice and waiting for Himmelstoss. They casually discuss what they would do if peace were declared. Tjaden jokingly says he wants to spend the rest of his life torturing Himmelstoss. Westhus wants to join a peacetime army. Kropp believes that the war has permanently ruined them; he fears that after the war, they will be good for nothing. It is Baumer, however, that truly captures the depression of this wartime generation: "We were eighteen and had begun to love life and the world; and we had to shoot it to pieces. The first bomb, the first explosion burst in our hearts. We are cut off from activity, from striving, from progress."
When Himmelstoss finally appears, Tjaden insults him. Though the company commander, Lieutenant Bertinck, is sympathetic to Baumer and his friends, he is forced to punish them for any insubordination. As a result, Tjaden and Kropp are given "open arrest;" it is an intentionally light sentence. At the end of the chapter, Baumer and Kat entertain themselves by roasting a stolen goose. As they enjoy eating the goose together, they appear as "two minute sparks of life; outside is the night and the circle of death." Once again the life/death theme is clearly depicted by Remarque.
In this chapter, Remarque continues to build on the life/death theme that runs throughout the book. Like chapters 1 and 3, this section is about life, living, and friendship and serves as a bridge between two bleak chapters. For the moment, the soldiers are at rest, away from the front, dreaming of peacetime. Tjaden actually jokes about Himmelstoss and then openly insults the old drillmaster when he arrives. Baumer and Kat cook a stolen goose and enjoy each other's company; but at the end of the chapter, the author reminds the reader of the "circle of death" that surrounds them. In war, it is impossible to separate life from death. As a result, every lighter chapter in the book is preceded and followed by one filled with the horror of death at the battlefront; as a result, the structure of the book enhances the main theme of the book, that war brings senseless destruction, followed by moral decay. The repeated contrast between life away from the front and the fear of death at the battle line is very effective.