Paul is "stable," having returned from the Front in a battle that took 70 of the 150 soldiers that first went to fight. He is relatively new to the war. He has small resentments against those who encouraged him to enlist and those who belittled him in his basic training, but he is generally hopeful in his approach to the war. The brutalities have not yet seeped under his skin.
Paul has his first real encounter with death as his friend Kemmerich dies in the hospital. The finality of that close death makes the war suddenly real to Paul. He wrestles with opposing forces of hope and despair, as he grows from naïve child to wizened "old folk," encountering many life-or-death situations along the way. He feels more and more alienated from what he used to call "home" and the innocent boy he used to be.
Paul begins to learn how to navigate the bullets, bombs, and blasts with ease – but he must pay a price in losing his feeling and his humanity. In order to survive in a mechanized killing environment, Paul must become mechanized himself. His ideology and identity, are put on the line. He begins to define "home" as the Front, not as the house in which he was raised.
Paul realizes that all his best efforts and hard work are useless. The Germans will lose the war; his friends will die; he will die. He gives in to the feeling of being an automaton, carrying out his day.
Paul decides to volunteer for a reconnaissance mission, his first solo job. He actively puts himself in danger, almost without a thought. During this mission, he makes his first hand-to-hand kill, a French soldier with a family. The man's slow death in front of Paul's eyes takes Paul further down the path to where dying is an upgrade to his quality of life.
Paul's last remaining friend dies – Kat is shot in the head while Paul carries him to a makeshift hospital after a shin wound. With Kat gone, Paul has little left to live for.
Paul's death is painted as a calming relief. It's a sad day when death is an upgrade.