Robert arrives at Asile Desolé and undresses in one of the abandoned cells. He hurries out of the small room and into the large, open bathhouse, having become claustrophobic since his dugout in St. Eloi collapsed. Robert scrubs himself and soaks in one of the bathtubs for nearly an hour. As he is toweling himself dry, a group of the asylum patients in the bathing room start a commotion with the attendants, and some of the other soldiers get involved. Robert ignores the situation and walks back to the cell for his clothes.
Robert’s panicked reaction to the small cell implies that the trauma he experienced in the Battle of St. Eloi may have caused him to develop shell shock (or PTSD, as it is now known). As in the previous chapter, Robert’s bath is symbolic of a transition in his life, and the eerie setting of the insane asylum only adds to this sense of foreboding suspense.
Back at the cell, Robert realizes that the lantern has been extinguished and that someone is in there with him. The door closes behind him before he can react, and he hears at least three men surrounding him in the dark. They yank his towel away and proceed to violently rape him. After the assault, he hears one of the men speak and realizes that his assailants, who he had thought were “crazies” from the asylum, were actually his fellow soldiers.
The loss of sexual innocence Robert experiences from this assault parallels the broader loss of moral innocence that he has experienced throughout his time at war. The brutality of Robert’s fellow soldiers demonstrates the tendency for war to encourage violence and degradation toward strangers; just as the enemy sides dehumanize each other on the battlefield, so do the men belittle and abuse Robert.