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Wednesday, 1 June 2011

All Quiet on the Western Front - Part 7

Finally back after my Expo weekend and subsequent recovery period. You wouldn't think two days at a convention would take it out of you so much. In any case, I'm mostly back to normal, just trying to sort out my sleeping pattern now, and now ready to continue my reviews. Last chapter seemed to be the "kill-'em-all" chapter and the halfway point. 
So after being almost totally obliterated, the company is taken far behind the lines so that it can get some more recruits in there and thus actually qualify as a company. Himmelstoss made it out alive, which is a surprise. He's actually nice now, which is an even bigger surprise. A side effect of him being nice is that our main group (apart from Haie, who's dying in some army hospital right about now) is getting well-fed and rested. It seems that while they're behind the front line, they retreat into jokey personas so that they don't have to deal with all the horrors of the front. Makes sense that they can't really dwell on that sort of stuff out there, otherwise they're at risk of dying, but I can imagine that come peace-time, it's all going to come out and it will not be pretty. 
This next paragraph seems to be pretty much a longer, more poetic version of what I discussed just now. I don't see much point re-hashing that right now, so I'll move along. 
There's an odd scene next where the guys find a poster of a pretty girl that pretty much transfixes them. Granted, I can understand them being fascinated by her picture, seeing as it's been a while since they've seen any women. I can understand that. But preening themselves for a poster seems a little bit on the eerie side; it seems like the poster is taking on too much significance somehow, like if a guy were to get in his finest tux so that he can ogle a page 3 girl. I don't know, it just doesn't sit right somehow. 
The next scene sees them organise a rendezvous with some French girls in exchange for food. I suddenly get the feeling that this may well be the sex/women oriented chapter. So they wait until dark to swim across, where the girls are greeted with the sight of 3 men, all naked as the day they were born except for boots. They laugh, obviously (who wouldn't?). The girls eat and talk to them in French, which they don't understand. My understanding of French has declined somewhat over the years, but I can say that it's less friendly and more pitying than they seem to think. The sex (or what little the reader is shown of it) is more melancholy than anything, more an escape from the war than anything else. It's rather sad that an act that can hold so much meaning for the people involved can also degenerate to an escape route. I mean, it doesn't hold any meaning that way; you forget for a short while, but in the end it all fades away again. 
They eventually go back to camp, where they pass Tjaden racing along in the nude to see if he can get in on the fun. An amusing image, but not quite enough here. 
The next morning,umer is told that he's being given leave for two weeks, and that he doesn't have to report back to the front afterwards; instead he'll be at a camp in the moors for training. He spends his last day with his friends in the canteen, drinking beer and smoking. What do you reckon the likelihood is that by the time he gets back from this training course thing, there will have been a load of them killed off? 
We skip a great deal of the travelling until he gets close to his home town. It does sound very pretty, with rolling fields and the like. Maybe a bit too idyllic, but it works in the circumstances. In any case, Bäumer can't seem to convince himself that he's actually home, and it's made pretty awkward by his mother asking whether it's bad at the front. That and his mother may have cancer. Things just keep getting better, huh? 
He goes to the district's military HQ to report and meets with a thoroughly unpleasant major on the way back. Not quite sure why this scene is here, but oh well. In any case, he ditches the uniform as quickly as he can once he gets back home again. 
He ends up going to the local pub with his father, and oh dear. It really couldn't get much more awkward. While his mother is just asking what the conditions are like so that she can assuage her doubts, his father wants to know the nitty gritty. Or at least he thinks he does, going under the assumption that everything's a grand old lark out there. It's a similar situation with his teachers, who think that winning the war will just be a simple matter of winning in a certain area of the battlefield. Frankly, it's irritating, but he can't really tell them that they're talking rubbish because they're being so supportive. 
There's a section where Bäumer talks about how he wishes he could connect with the people in his home town still or that they just stop talking and just appreciate what they've got for once. It's quite sad but really frustrating at the same time, just thinking about the sheer idiocy that the human race displays sometimes. 
Seems he can't even connect to the person he used to be anymore either. There's a scene where he just sits in his old room, trying to recapture the youthful enthusiasm he had before he joined the war. He tries reading through all his books, to try and convince himself that he'll be okay once the war is over, but nothing reaches him; the books that he spent so much time collecting mean absolutely nothing to him. I don't know why, but I think that's got to be the scariest thing of all the stuff that has happened in this chapter. The idea that you could come back from somewhere and not even recognise what inspired or defined your younger self is a horrific prospect, for me anyway. 
He ends up visiting an old friend, Mittelstaedt, who was presumably injured enough to be sent back home and put in charge of the home guard. Which their old teacher, Kantorek, is part of. The revenge on Kantorek is pretty good too, giving him a hopelessly mismatched and ill-fitting uniform amongst other things. I would feel sorry for this guy, but he has effectively killed a large chunk of his old students, so I think he rather deserves it. Plus it's a great image. 
Back at home it's getting progressively more awkward, as his mother is getting more depressed the closer he gets to going back to war. 
Almost as awkward as visiting Kemmerich's mother. You know, the guy who died in chapter 2? Yeah, that was never going to go well. Quite why she wanted to know how he died, I have no idea. I mean, if I had a child and s/he died, I'd want to know as little as possible simply for my peace of mind. But maybe that's just me. Should the circumstance ever come up, I may well act like Kemmerich's mother too, against my better judgement. Who knows? 
The final scene this chapter is him saying goodbye to his mother. It's a nightmare, just one of those things that cannot go well, like visiting Kemmerich's mother. To cut a long scene short, he tries to dumb down the dangers of the front again, all the while having a surprisingly flowery inner monologue. 

After all that, you can understand why he would wish he'd never come home on leave. Yeah, overall a pretty depressing experience, with a few comedic moments which don't quite alleviate the gloom as well as one would hope. 

Signing off, 

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