At the end of Ch. 7, Paul writes, “I ought never to have come on leave” (185). Why not? What conflicts does Paul’s trip home reveal?
Paul’s leave brings great pain to both Paul and his family. He constantly feels like he does not belong at home because he has been at war and has witnessed horrendous things and thought about life in a way he never thought he would. Everything about his home is now strange to him. For probably the first time in his life, he realizes how much he cares for his family, and coming back home and knowing he must return to the front just intensifies the pain. The war’s effect on Paul has changed him enormously, and now it is all he is accustomed to. When he comes home he feels like a stranger. He writes, “I lean against the wall and grip my helmet and rifle. I hold them as tight as I can, but I cannot take another step… my sister’s call has made me powerless” (Remarque 157). The new, different type of comfort Paul seeks on the front changes his view of what comfort is. Here, he grips his helmet and rifle, the closest thing to the front. His sister’s call made him “powerless” showing how his old life, which really was not that long ago, is trying to enter his body, however Paul resists its force. His sister’s call is a symbol for the return home. A piece of him wants to accept it, but the other is closed and know he can never go back. He almost feels like he never should have left the front; it brought too much pain. One way he tries to link with his past self is through his books. He adored his books as a child and he tries to connect to them: “Speak to me – take me up – take me, Life of my Youth – you who are care-free, beautiful – receive me again” (Remarque 172). The words “Life of my Youth” show how he is aware of his lost youth and to him it was a whole separate life. When he figures out he cannot go back, he writes, “A terrible feeling of foreignness suddenly rises up in me” (Remarque 172). I can only imaging what pain he must feel, a visit to your not-so-far-in-the-past childhood and feeling like a complete stranger. He now realizes that there is no going back; only to worry about the future. Paul is constantly reminded of war on his leave, from his encounter with the major, to the numerous questions that put Paul in such an uncomfortable position. His father constantly questions him about his experiences on the front, bringing up so many uncomfortable memories. And, when his mom asks him questions (rarely; she realizes how difficult it is for him) he has to lie in order for her not make her feel even worse on top of her illness.