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Thursday, 16 June 2011

All Quiet on the Western Front - Part 9

Hey guys, back again. On to chapter 9 now. I'll admit, at the moment reading this doesn't feel like an especially good prospect; this is nothing to do with the writing, it's just that the trend of the chapters recently has been for a soul-crushingly depressing atmosphere which I could do without. But I haven't read a chapter in a while and I do want to know what happens to him, so on I go.
So we are finally reunited with the rest of the guys, after finding out that they're now a flying division: a division that travels to wherever the fighting is worst/heaviest. Wonderful news. Although Kropp seems to have heard an entirely different rumour, that they're being sent to Russia, where the fighting is pretty much over. Personally? My money is on the flying division bit and Russia being a seriously unlikely prospect.
I almost thought for a minute I'd have to take that last sentence back. They all get new gear and uniforms etc, and go through drill practice almost obsessively, making our narrator wonder why they'd need all this for Russia. Turns out that the Kaiser is coming to inspect them instead. It all seems rather anti-climactic in the end, which is understandable considering that the Kaiser at the time was far from physically imposing. From talking about the Kaiser, they begin to ponder the question of whether the war would have started if the Kaiser had said no to it. Followed by a discussion of the differences between a nation and a homeland, which would be more interesting if it weren't so brief and more than just a place for "we don't need to be here" to be brought up. After all that they have to go get their old gear back again.
There's an odd scene next where they see the aftermath of a bombing raid on the way back to the front. Pretty much the entire scene is looking at the carnage, specifically at how the bodies are blown out of their clothes, and hoping they don't end up the same way. I don't see why it's there. It's probably there to show how brutal the war is, but then Remarque has already demonstrated that in much better and subtler ways, so this just seems to come out of nowhere.
The next scene is our narrator volunteering himself for a patrol to see how many of the enemy positions are manned. This is an interesting one, as there doesn't seem to be much danger around him (relatively speaking), but he's having what looks to be a pretty bad panic attack. I'm surprised just how much he could, in a sense, get used to the situation surrounding his two or so weeks away. His panic only subsides when he hears his friends' voices back in the trenches, which is another interesting point. Just how far does camaraderie go until it becomes an emotional crutch? Is that a healthy state of mind, even if it's helpful in situations like that?
So he continues forward, trying to make contact with the rest of the patrol, but gets lost. This isn't going particularly successfully, in all honesty. He ends up having to play dead in No Man's Land while a French offensive is going on. So all in all a spectacularly bad way to begin his work back on the front line, all things considered.
And he's still stuck out there at this point in the narrative, with enemy gunfire too low to the ground for him to get back to his own trenches and a dying man in there with him. It's a horrible scene to read, simply because he's waiting for the Germans to start a counter-attack so that he can go back to see his mates, but he realises that his mates probably think he's already died.
That man stuck in the shell crater with him is taking longer to die than I imagined. I'm assuming that this guy is a French soldier, which is why I'm kinda confused as to why our narrator is trying to help heal his wounds. I mean, I can understand sympathising with the people on the other side and such, but considering that this is a battlefield, it seemed an odd place for him to suddenly develop a desire to help his fellow man.
The soldier finally dies. Somehow it's both affecting and nauseating at the same time: you pity the man and all the wasted years he has, but then Bäumer imagining all these aspects of the dead man's life, like a wife he writes to, just seems too close somehow. Bäumer does seem to be going quite mad though.
Definitely not a healthy mindset now. He's utterly obsessed with the family of the man he's just killed, going through the corpse's wallet so that he'll know who he's killed. It's more scary than sad now, which I'm not sure was the intention, to be honest.
He now makes it back to the trench, where he's welcomed back with a fair amount of relief. Considering how scarily obsessive he was about the guy he killed as well, he forgets him pretty quickly after the others assure him that everything's okay. Which is almost as creepy as the obsession in the first place.

I'm not sure what I think of this chapter. It didn't seem to gel quite as well as the others, if I'm honest. Still, not bad overall.

Signing off,

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