Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version | Barron's Booknotes
The German army begins to collapse; it cannot stand up against the replenished supplies and troops given by the United States to the Allieds. The remaining German soldiers are so weary of the war that they function without thought or feeling, almost like automatons; they feel the only way they will leave the fighting is to be dead or hospitalized. Most of Baumer's comrades, including Muller, Leer, and Bertnick, have already been killed.
One day Detering, one of Baumer's few remaining friends, sees a cherry tree in full blossom. The sight causes him to think about his farm and his family; longing to return to his home, Detering deserts the infantry; however, he is quickly caught and court- martialed.
During a battle, Kat is hit in the leg by a bullet. Baumer puts his injured friend on his back to carry him to the nearest medical station. On the way, Kat is hit again, this time in the head. When Baumer arrives at the station, Kat is already dead. The loss of his best friend is a devastating blow for Baumer.
Things are going badly for the Germans. American reinforcements of soldiers and supplies are taking their toll on the forces of the Central Powers. Many German infantrymen have been killed, and those remaining are too weary of battle to fight well or intelligently. Baumer himself has a very negative attitude, feeling tired, depressed, isolated, and lost. It is a preparation for his death in the final chapter.
Throughout the war, Baumer has been completely dependent on his friends for pleasure and emotional security; but the war has taken them away one by one. The leather boots, a recurring image throughout the novel, have become the symbol of passing friendship. Originally Kemmerich got the boots from an unnamed airman. When Kemmerich dies, the boots pass to Muller and then on to Baumer. He has promised them to Tjaden if something should happen to him.
As he thinks about his many losses in the war, Baumer begins to believe that the only way to emerge from the fighting is in a coffin or through a hospital. His friend Detering literally throws in the towel. When he sees a blossoming cherry tree, a symbol of rebirth and new beginnings, it reminds him of his farm and family. As a result, he decides to choose life over death. He deserts the infantry and heads for home; however, he is quickly caught and punished.
At the end of the chapter, Baumer is again in the trenches with his remaining friends. Suddenly Kat is hit by a bullet. Baumer attempts to carry him on his back to get medical attention. Along the way, Kat is hit again and dies. The death of Kat, who has been has best friend, completely destroys Baumer; he now has no one or nothing to turn to.