Autumn arrives, and Paul is one of the few “old hands” left on the front. He is the last remaining man out of the seven in his class. Many seem to be hopeful, as there is talk of an armistice. Paul conjectures that men will revolt if their hopes for peace are dashed.
Times have never been more desperate for the Germans—Paul recognizes that they are distraught enough to revolt if there is no end to the war in sight.
Paul is placed on a two-week rest after swallowing some poisonous gas. He spends his days sitting outside in the sun and thinking of a peaceful journey home. He cannot think beyond his immediate desires to return, however—after the yearning for home, he is aimless.
Paul’s time fighting the war has crushed his spirits, and now, without any comrades, he is acutely aware of how listless and unmotivated he is.
Paul realizes that men will not understand the returning soldiers. The war will be forgotten, and things will go back to normal for all those who were too young or too old to see combat. “We will be superfluous even to ourselves,” Paul reflects, and the former soldiers will “fall into ruin.”
Paul’s thoughts encapsulate the concept of the “lost generation”—those who fought in World War 1 will be unable to move past what they’ve endured, and others will be unable to understand them.
Perhaps, Paul hopes, his melancholy will fly away once he returns home—maybe his desire to learn and explore the future has not been completely lost in bombardment and despair. Paul realizes that the passage of time can take nothing from him. He is alone and hopeless, which allows him to confront time’s passage fearlessly. His vivacity will express itself in spite of the reservations his mind may have.
Without comrades, Paul is left with nothing to lose. He senses that it is possible that his absolute abjection could be a source of hope—if things cannot get worse for him, perhaps they may manage to get better. Though this is a rather desperate hope.
A third-person narrator describes a soldier—presumably, but not explicitly Paul—being killed in October of 1918, on a day that was otherwise so safe that it earned a report of “all quiet on the Western front.” The dead man lies as if he is asleep, and his face wears a calm expression, “as though almost glad the end had come.”
As Paul loses hope and any reason to care about living on, his narration falls away in favor of an impersonal third person narrator. That narrator treats Paul as just another anonymous casualty of the war. Paul’s relative lack of importance—his death happens during a “quiet” day—contrasts sharply with his central role through the rest of the novel, and highlights the fact that Paul really is just one of millions of men, on both sides of the war, who had lives and futures that were senselessly destroyed by the war, by the striving for power by nations and leaders that ultimately cared nothing for the men in the armies who were destroyed.