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All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque-Barron's Booknotes
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CHAPTER 5

After the nightmare in Chapter 4, we're ready for some relief, and this chapter offers it. Remarque-or Paul-shows us by contrast how friendship can create a tiny island within the sea of death.

Once again the men idle behind the lines, nonchalantly killing lice while they talk about plans for after the war. Suddenly the newly assigned Himmelstoss appears and roles are reversed: they are the veterans. Tjaden sneers at the man and rudely refuses to salute. The others enjoy the encounter, but, once it is over and Tjaden and Himmelstoss have stormed off in different directions, they go right back to their discussion. Paul does some counting-of the twelve privates among the 20 classmates who volunteered as a group, seven are already dead, four are wounded, and one is insane. Muller and Kropp and Paul feel lost. Kat and Westhus and even Himmelstoss can return to their old jobs after the war, but what future do Muller, Kropp, and Paul have? Kropp, the intellectual, puts the fate of his generation into the simplest of words: "The war has ruined us for everything." Paul agrees. They no longer care about "achieving" or believe in the progress of civilization. They know only war.


The discussion ends when Himmelstoss comes steaming back. He wants Tjaden. Kropp and Muller comment on ways to "get" Himmelstoss, and Paul observes how pitiful their goals have become. The biggest ambition they have left is to knock the conceit out of a mailman. Half an hour later Himmelstoss is back, still seeking Tjaden. He interrupts their card game. Kropp angrily points to puffs of antiaircraft fire high above them and tells Himmelstoss off: What does he want them to do? Salute and ask permission before they die? Himmelstoss disappears like a comet, with Kropp obviously added to his complaint list. That evening Lieutenant Bertinck gives Himmelstoss's complaints a fair review, and he does punish Kropp and Tjaden but only lightly, with open arrest behind wire fencing instead of closed arrest, locked up in a cellar. Kat and Paul play cards with the two prisoners far into the night, but events haven't erased Kat's memory of the geese. With a little bribery, he and Paul hitch a ride to the spot. And then we enjoy the most comic scene of the novel! Try reading it aloud: Paul, in the goose- shed, battling a bulldog and kicking geese in order to steal a goose and toss it to Kat. Our formerly law-abiding schoolboy is even ready to shoot some farmer's dog to steal the man's property! But to Kat and Paul, it's a soldier's right to supplement his rations however he can. At last Paul succeeds, and he and Kat spend the rest of the night in quiet camaraderie in an out-of-the-way shed, cleaning, roasting, basting, and eating all the goose they want. Near dawn they pack up the feathers for later use. Extending their circle of peace and brotherhood, they take the rest of the meat to Tjaden and Kropp. For the moment, all's right in their world.

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