Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
In the book we hear the term "The Iron Youth" used to describe Paul's generation. "The Iron Youth" is an ideal of a strong Fatherland-lovin' group of young soldiers who enlist and fight in the war as a way of showing pride for Germany and its history. The author and characters in the book tear this ideal apart, feeling it to be useless and empty when compared with the realities of war. These young soldiers are not made of "iron," but of flesh and blood. The term "iron" would suggest they are protected emotionally and physically against all weapons of war, but this book proves to us that that is completely false. Lives melt away in the arms of this violent war.
Iron is also a key element of the weapons used in the war, reminding us that this is an element that kills rather than protects. There are stakes made of iron that are used on soldiers' graves, sad statements of the deaths of fine young men. When the Kaiser (the German emperor) shows up, he gives out Iron Crosses as rewards for heroism in battle.