All Quiet on the Western Front Chapter 7
Paul's company is taken back to a field depot to be reorganized and brought back up to strength. While there, the men get some well earned rest and relaxation. While loafing, Himmelstoss comes to them a changed man. His combat experiences have made him more friendly. The men welcome him, except for Tjaden. Soon, however, Himmelstoss is made cook for Second Company, and begins treating Paul and his comrades especially well, and even Tjaden accepts him. They are rested and well fed, and the terror of the front begins to sink down inside them. They never forget, however; they simply enjoy the rest while they have it.
Kropp and Paul discover a poster for a theater company with a picture of a beautiful girl on it. She is perfect, and they can't take their eyes off her. There is a man next to the girl in the picture, but they tear him down, because he is clean and they are filthy. After looking at the beautiful girl some more, they decide to go get deloused and cleaned up. Leer and Tjaden come along and say vulgar things about the girl in the photo. Paul and Kropp leave to get cleaned up.
While swimming, Paul, Leer, Kropp, and Tjaden spy three beautiful French women walking on the bank of the river across from their camp, where they aren't allowed to go. Paul especially notices one, a beautiful brunette girl. Using a little French, hand gestures, and a loaf of bread, they make plans with the girls to meet late that night. They go drinking at the canteen and smoke and tell stories of their sexual experiences. Since there are only three women, they get Tjaden so drunk that he passes out, and then get bread, sausage and cigarettes for the girls. They put the presents in their boots, and then go to the river.
They swim across, holding the boots out of the water. On the other bank, they put their boots on and run, naked, to the girls' house. Once there, they give the girls their presents and watch them eat. The girls are very hungry. They chat happily in French, which Paul and his comrades barely understand. They pair off, and Paul and the brunette go to a bedroom. He is nervous about the encounter, feeling naked without his soldier's gear. The girl kisses him, and Paul kisses her back, hoping that by making love to the girl, he will be able to forget the war, but he can't. On the way back to their camp, he is miserable, until they see Tjaden running, naked, to the river. They laugh and go to their quarters to sleep.
Paul is issued leave--seventeen days. Bertink tells him that after traveling, he will report to a training camp before he returns to the front. His comrades are jealous. Kat advises him to try and get a safe desk job. They drink at the canteen ands say good-bye to him, but Paul gloomily wonders who will still be alive when he returns from his training. That night, they meet the French girls again. Paul tells the brunette that he is going on leave, but she doesn't seem to care. Paul is confused, but realizes that the girl finds his leave boring, and would only be interested if he was going to the front. The next morning, Kropp and Kat walk him to the train station, and then say goodbye. Paul is left impatiently waiting for his train.
As Paul travels, he watches the countryside go by out the window and becomes nervous with anticipation as he approaches his hometown. Morning has just started by the time they pull into his station. He looks around, but doesn't know anyone. He leaves that station and looks around, memories of his pre-war life coming back to him as he walks home. Once there, he is greeted by his oldest sister, who hugs him in joy and calls for his mother. Paul almost faints, but pulls himself together. He looks in on his mother, who is very sick. He sits by her and thinks of how kind she is for making his favorite foods, but he is uneasy and cannot feel at home amongst his childhood things. "There is a distance, a veil between us." Chapter 7, pg. 160
He gives his mother and sister the food he has brought from the front. His mother becomes anxious and asks him how it is at the front, because she has heard stories from other soldiers. Paul cannot answer her questions truthfully, so he tries to ease her worry. In doing so, he becomes more comfortable being home. After he leaves her side, he asks his sister about his mother's illness. The doctors are not sure, but they think it is cancer.
On the street, Paul encounters a Major who yells at him for not saluting properly. When the major hears that Paul is on leave from the front, he yells at him more and tells him that his "front-line manners" aren't welcome there. Paul goes home angry and throws his uniform in the corner. His old suit doesn't fit very well, but it is light after months of wearing a uniform. His mother is happy he has changed, but his father wants him to put his uniform back on so he can show off. Paul refuses.
Paul goes to a beer-garden to have a drink. He sits quietly and thinks the townsfolk he can't bring himself to get along with. That evening, his father asks a lot of stupid questions about the front. Paul got annoyed with the questions, because his father didn't understand that talking about the front won't make you understand the front. When his father asked if he has fought in hand-to-hand combat, Paul left the house. On the street, he encountered his old German-master, who stopped him and insisted that he join a few other men and talk about the war. One of the men told him that a foot-soldier couldn't understand the grand scheme of the war, and could only understand his limited duty. Paul thought being on leave would be different, but the war has changed him too much to just return home as if nothing was happening. He is happier alone, away from the people he no longer understands. He is attracted and repelled by normal civilian life all at the same time, and ultimately can only think of his comrades back at the front.
Back at home, Paul sits in his room and looks at his books and other possessions. He misses the joy he got in reading and learning. He hopes that after the war he will be able to return and love his books again. He thinks of Kemmerich, and contemplates visiting his mother, but that leads him to thinking about being with his comrades at the front. He turns his attention back to his room, and tries to find inspiration in his books. When he pages through them, however, he finds that they no longer inspire him the way they once did. Dejected, he puts them away and leaves the room.
He goes to visit another old friend, Mittelstaedt, at the local army barracks, and receives interesting news: their old teacher, Kantorek, has been called up as a territorial--a low-ranking soldier. Mittelstaedt tells Paul all about ordering Kantorek around, including yelling at him for the death of their classmate, Joseph Behm. He then shows Paul Kantorek himself, who is forced to wear old, badly fitting clothing for his uniform. Paul laughs and thinks about the days when he was scared of Kantorek. Mittelstaedt makes Kantorek do all kinds of torturous exercise, taunting him with Kantorek's own quotes from their old classroom.
The days go by and Paul's mother becomes increasingly upset that he will have to leave again. Paul tries to occupy himself by getting bones from the slaughter-house, but there are not enough for the entire town, so Paul uses his army rations from the base to give his family a good meal. With four days left in his leave, he decides to go see Kemmerich's mother. There, she cries and yells and begs him to tell her of her son's death. He lies to her and tells her he died quickly, but she doesn't believe him. She asks him to swear he's telling the truth "by everything sacred," but Paul is hard pressed to think of anything he finds sacred anymore. He swears anyway, and says he hopes he will never return from the front if he is lying. She gives him a picture of Kemmerich and he leaves.
Paul's last night at home, his mother comes to his bed. They sit in silence for some time, and then Paul tells her to go to sleep. He assures her that he will try to visit while at training camp. She warns him about French women and tells him to be careful at the front. He assures her he's going to do everything he can to be safe, and walks her to her room. As they say goodnight, she gives him some underwear that she couldn't really afford, and goes to bed. Paul goes back to bed, agonized, wishing he had never come home on leave.