Chapter 10 Summary:
Paul and his friends have been assigned to guard an abandoned village and watch over a supply dump. They make the most of the village's possessions, decorating and stocking with food the concrete cellar in which they shelter. One night, they invite some fellow military men for a feast of pork in a village house. They start a fire in the fireplace, but the smoke from the chimney alerts observation balloons. Shells drop on the house, and the men retreat to their cellar and finish their meal. By night, the town is devastated. The men happily spend nearly two weeks there, relaxing as the shells continue to destroy the village; all the soldiers need to protect is the supply dump. Finally, they receive orders to go back, but they take much booty from the village with them.
The men are sent to help evacuate a village. On their way in, they pass by the fleeing inhabitants. Shells soon drop and knock down Paul and Kropp; Kropp is hit in the knee. They find cover in a muddy ditch, and Paul leads Kropp to a dug-out, where he bandages him. Paul is also wounded, and he gets the attention of a passing ambulance wagon. They are brought to a dressing station. Kropp says that if his leg is amputated, he will commit suicide.
At night, Kropp and Paul are brought to the "chopping-block"; Paul is afraid the knife-happy surgeons will amputate them. When the surgeon examines his leg wound, Paul squirms, and the surgeon orders chloroform to sedate him. Wary he will be operated on while under, Paul promises to keep still. The surgeon removes a piece of shell and says Paul can leave tomorrow. Paul later bribes the army medical sergeant-major to keep him and Kropp together. Later, Paul and Kropp wait for the train in the rain, lamenting their bad luck. The sergeant-major makes sure they are put in the same car, along with red-cross nurses. Paul feels bad about dirtying the clean sheets in his bunk bed with his filthy, lice-ridden shirt. After a few days, Paul learns that Kropp's fever will force him to get off at the next station. Paul fakes a fever and gets sent off with Kropp.
Paul and Kropp share a room in a Catholic Hospital. Though the hospitals are known for their good treatment and food, Paul and Kropp are not examined because the hospital is so crowded. In the morning, the sisters' prayers in the hallway wake them through the open door. They patients yell at them to close the door, and only when Paul throws a bottle into the hallway do they. The men, and especially Paul, avoid punishment, as one of the patients with a "shooting license"--a certificate that says he is periodically not responsible for his actions--takes credit for the thrown bottle.
One of the wounded men in Paul's room thinks he is hemorrhaging, but the night sister does not come when they call for her. Paul finally rings the bell again and she comes, but the damage is done, and the man is soon taken away to the "Dying Room," where dying men are placed. Paul watches more men being taken away to the Dying Room, sometimes under the pretense of their going somewhere else. Paul is operated on and learns that his bones will not fuse. Two wounded soldiers, who also have flat feet, arrive, but a wise fellow patient warns them not to undergo an operation for their feet; they will be crippled for life. Nevertheless, the surgeon bullies them into having the surgery. Kropp's leg is amputated at the thigh. He rarely speaks now, once mentioning he will shoot himself. More men die, although one man returns from the Dying Room, an unprecedented event. Paul is given crutches and he hobbles around the hospital, observing the particular wounds the patients have. He reflects on the number of wounded in the war, and on of the "abyss of sorrow" war has created for his generation. He wonders what will happen to them all after the war.
The oldest man in the room, Lewandowski, has recently recovered from a ten-month-old abdominal wound. He has learned his wife, whom he has not seen for two years, will visit him from Poland. However, Lewandowski cannot get permission to go out with her when she comes to resume their marital relations. The men vow to help him, and when she arrives, they stall the sisters, stand guard, tend to the couple's infant, turn around, and make noises to cover the sounds of Lewandowski and his wife. After, his wife distributes sausage to the happy men, who now call her "Mother."
After a few weeks, Paul is able to move his leg again. Kropp's stump has healed, and he is almost ready for an artificial limb, though he is even more solemn than before. Paul goes on convalescent leave, and his mother, sicker than before, does not want to let him go again. Paul is recalled to his regiment.
This chapter strikes at a new target in the novel's de-romanticization of war: Remarque bursts whatever bubble his readers may have regarding convalescence and war hospitals. While anytime a war novel uses a hospital for a setting it is, by definition, acknowledging that war wounds, maims, and kills, frequently literature skips over the gorier aspects of war's effects. Often, a soldier bravely winces while a beautiful nurse tends to his wounds and, even more often, falls in love with his stoic manliness.
Paul does allow that some of the nurses in the Catholic Hospital are cheerful and help the men recover emotionally, but his depiction of the medical staff is mostly negative. Some of the nurses lie to men who are destined for the Dying Room, and their reluctance to immediately help contributes to the death of the hemorrhaging man. But the nurses pale in comparison to the sadistic surgeons. Paul believes the doctor who removes his piece of shell is deliberately "tormenting" him, and he and the others are worried about the surgeons' penchant for unnecessary amputations.
Though Paul is injured, he is still far better off than Kropp. Kropp's suicidal depression over his amputation does not seem likely to go away in time; he has permanently become a "cripple," and the war has forever scarred his body and psyche. To a lesser degree, all the soldiers are scarred by the war, and Paul wonders again in this chapter what will happen to his generation after the war. Kropp's amputation also underscores another idea Paul has previously meditated upon: chance. He and Paul were both in the same area when the shells hit them; Kropp happened to get hit above the knee, whereas Paul took a smaller piece in the sturdier thigh. A few inches of arbitrary distance have decided the rest of their lives for them.
Once again, the only good that comes from war is the camaraderie of the soldiers. The soldiers revel in their cellar hideout; it's the closest thing they have to a real home anymore. They bond even more in the hospital. When Paul throws the bottle at the nuns, it is reminiscent of a Catholic school prank (that another soldier takes the blame makes it even more prankish; he is literally licensed to do unpredictable things, and the soldiers are eager to exploit this for future mischief). However, the ultimate bonding moment comes when the soldiers help Lewandowski with his conjugal visit. They become like a family, taking care of the couple's infant while they do their business, even later calling Lewandowski's wife "Mother."
Earlier in the chapter, we see another instance of pragmatism that could appear to be ruthlessness when the soldiers use and later cart off the village's possessions and food. Remarque even allows some dark humor here with the sight of the soldiers running through a shell bombardment with a suckling pig. As we have seen before, the men are simply being realistic; the townspeople are not using their possessions anymore (and they may never even get the chance again if the town is razed).
Nevertheless, Paul remains a hardened soldier after having gone through and seen these horrific effects of war. Referring to his difficult parting with Kropp, he says "a man gets used to that sort of thing in the army." He has said this about a number of emotionally devastating events, and it makes sense why his description of his dying mother warrants only a brief paragraph at the end of the chapter: he has lost his ability to feel deeply.
Chapter 11 Summary:
It is no longer winter but now spring, though Paul and the soldiers, worn down, have stopped counting the weeks. The men have lost their original distinctions and have blended in with each other. Paul believes they have done this as a means of self-preservation--from insanity, desertion, and death. They remain hardened and closed off, but occasionally a dangerous "flame of grievous and terrible yearning flares up" and prove to the men that their behavior is "artificial."
Paul tells a story about Detering. Returning from the front in the morning, the men saw a cherry tree. That night, Detering disappeared and came back with some of the cherry branches. In the middle of the night, Paul heard Detering packing. Detering said he had a cherry orchard at home, and two mornings later, he was gone. A week later the military police caught him, and the men have heard nothing of him since.
Paul describes how Müller was shot point-blank in the stomach. Before he died, Müller gave Paul his boots--originally Kemmerich's. Paul has promised to give them to Tjaden next. The men are starving, and so much "substitute stuff" has been mixed in with their food that they are constantly ill. Their depleted weaponry is falling apart. The men regale each other with stories of injustice in the army. Tanks have become brutal machines of war. Paul sees no possibilities for the men other than "Trenches, hospitals, the common grave."
During an attack, the company's commander and Leer die. The summer of 1918 further devastates the Germans, who are aware they are losing the war. Paul reflects repeatedly on the summer's rumors of an armistice. The opposition's sheer numbers, not its quality of soldiers, has crushed the Germans. Rain has soaked the men in the past weeks; now they deal with the oppressive heat. Kat is heavily wounded in the leg one day, and Paul carries him back to the dressing station. On the way, they stop for a drink and a cigarette and promise to stay in touch after Kat is sent away for his injury. Paul delivers Kat back, but he has died on the way--part of the shell hit his head, as well.
Paul's refrain of "Summer of 1918"--he begins four paragraphs in a row with the phrase--is a good example of how Remarque mixes beauty and horror in his poetic prose. "Summer of 1918" could be used in a very different context--to describe budding love, for instance. In fact, Paul begins the refrain in the manner of a love or nature poem, detailing "the red poppies in the meadows round our billetsthe stars and the flowing waters, dreams and long sleep--O Life, life, life!" But he quickly turns to talk of trench survivalist tactics--"the blanched faces lie in the dirt and the hands clutch at the one thought: No! No! Not now!"--and to the "tormenting" rumors of a possible armistice.
Kat's death seems like the most traumatic one Paul has witnessed--not least because, as Paul thinks, Kat is his last remaining friend. When the orderly asks Paul if he and Kat are related, Paul twice says to himself "No, we are not related," but it is clear their bond goes beyond relations. Indeed, Paul has expressed little pain at the thought of his mother's dying, and we never find out if and when she has died.
Remarque provides his final analysis of the soldiers' camaraderie. He reminds us that their bonding is crucial because it helps the men fend off the ravages of war, and Paul reinforces the idea that such intimacy is possible especially because the men have become alike. Though the military has worked hard to de-individualize the men for its own agenda, at least there is one positive side effect.
Müller's death and transfer of Kemmerich's boots develops the boots' deathly associations--Paul is already making plans for who shall get them next, as if his death is an inevitability. Not only is the physical material of the boots more permanent than the bodies of the soldiers, but in practical terms, it is more valuable.
Detering's burning desire to leave for home is an expression of what all the men repress, the need to escape from their "artificial" stoicism. However, there is a reason he is the only one who leaves; he is one of the few young men with a real home and profession. If the others had more compelling reasons to return home, they would probably have deserted long ago.
Chapter 12 Summary:
By autumn, only six others besides Paul from his class are left. They hope for an armistice to bring peace. Paul has two weeks' rest for having swallowed some gas. He thinks even with peace, the soldiers will be hopeless and aimless. He feels the older generation will not understand his generation's chaos. Paul decides that since he has already lost so much in the war, he cannot lose anymore. He is unsure if he has fully subdued all the life within him, but feels it will "seek its own way out" somehow.
In third-person narration, we learn that Paul died in October, 1918, on a day otherwise so calm that the army report merely stated "All quite on the Western Front." Paul's face seemed calm, "as though almost glad the end had come."
Paul delivers his final thoughts on the war, focusing on the theme of inter-generational conflict Remarque has threaded throughout the novel: his generation's alienation and aimlessness and its feelings of betrayal at the hands of the older generation.
But Paul sounds a quiet note of optimism at the end. He seems to have a dualistic approach to Janis Joplin's chestnut "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose." Paul has lost everything, and is now apathetic to further destruction, for war can take nothing else from him. On the other hand, maybe this loss has granted him some freedom to care about and love life again. Perhaps it is not personal freedom--Paul implies that the "will that is within me" is against his capacity to love--but some kind of universal freedom that throbs within all humanity. This freedom may allow life to flourish even in the most hardened soldier's heart.
But it is not meant to be; Paul dies, and the novel's title takes on a chilling tone. Even on its quiet days, war can be loud to some. Nevertheless, Paul gets his wish, freed from the brutality of war and returned to the earth, the one safe, permanent thing he knows. The war ended officially on November 11, 1918, but it is clear that Paul is better off having died beforehand. Though Paul was ruined for life after the war, Remarque was able to translate his war experiences into one of the most stirring anti-war novels of all time. Although the narrator of the last two paragraphs is anonymous, the reader gets the sense that Remarque is finally allowing himself into the narration. All Quiet on the Western Front is at once a condemnation of nationalism and violence, an examination of alienation and aimlessness, and an ode to the intimate bonds between soldiers in times of horror.