All Quiet on the Western Front

How does Paul's trip home show the young soldier how much he has changed?

how much did he change.

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When Paul reaches his hometown, he finds that his mother is ill with cancer and that the civilian population is slowly starving. He cannot shake a feeling of “strangeness”; he no longer feels at home in his family’s house. His mother asks if it was “very bad out there.” Paul lies to her. He has no words to describe his experiences—at least no words that she would understand.

A major becomes angry that Paul does not salute him in the street. As a punishment, he forces Paul to do a march in the street and salute smartly. Paul wishes to avoid further such incidents, so he begins wearing civilian clothing. Paul’s father, unlike his mother, keeps asking him questions. He doesn’t understand that it is dangerous for Paul to put his experiences into words. Others who don’t ask questions take too much pride in their silence. Sometimes the screeching of the trams startles Paul because it sounds like shells. He sits in his bedroom with his books and pictures, trying to recapture his childhood feelings of youth and desire, but the memories are only shadows. His identity as a soldier is the only thing to which he can cling.

Paul learns from a fellow classmate, Mittelstaedt, now a training officer, that Kantorek has been conscripted into the war. When he met Kantorek, Mittelstaedt tells Paul, he flaunted his authority as a superior officer over their old schoolmaster. He bitterly reminded Kantorek that he coerced Joseph Behm into enlisting against the boy’s wishes—Joseph would have been called within three months anyway, and Mittelstaedt believes that Joseph died three months sooner than he would have otherwise. Mittelstaedt arranged to be placed in charge of Kantorek’s company and has taken every chance to humiliate him, miming Kantorek’s old admonitions as a schoolmaster.

Paul’s mother becomes sadder as the end of Paul’s leave looms closer. Paul visits Kemmerich’s mother to deliver the news of her son’s death. She demands to know how he died. Paul lies to her by telling her that he died quickly with little pain and suffering.

Paul’s mother sits with Paul in his bedroom the last night of his leave. He tries to pretend that he is asleep, but he notes that she is in great physical pain. He urges her to return to bed. He wishes that he could weep in her lap and die with her. He also wishes that he had never come home on leave because it only awakens pain for himself and his mother.