Paul is thrown into battle – he caved to social pressure just like all of his peers and enlisted in the war. His hopes revolve around surviving this war while maintaining some of his softer, more human side, rather than letting the brutality of the war completely kill everything inside him.
Paul commits himself to his battle by letting small pieces of himself "die off" – his longing for home, his compassion for fellow men and human life. In selling off little pieces of his deeper self, Paul is able to survive on the Front.
Tensions heighten. Paul loses his inner self at an increasing pace and begins to lose control over the rate at which he is changing, slowly morphing into something wild, inhuman, even mechanized. The shadowy figure of his mother appears to remind him of all that he is killing deep in his inner being, but he has no choice other than to move forward, trying to live at any price.
After coming close to death himself, being wounded, and feeling terrified in so many ways, Paul can no longer go back to his former self. He no longer recognizes the boy who created the posters in his old bedroom. He is haunted by the ghost of a stranger he killed in hand-to-hand combat. He loses every friend he ever had to the war.
Paul dies on a quiet and calm day when there is no fire or shelling. The speaker suggests that Paul finds his peace at last.