This type of heroism also frequently meant severed limbs and other horrifying injuries that "normal" people shy away from. His function in the novel is one of recruitment, but also as demonstration of the concept dichotomy of the war. Kantorek believes in his vision of the war. However, it is only a vision in the minds of the rich and powerful, who have no idea what the reality of the war entails. Those who are at the battlefront, like Paul, experience a resultant separation from their former, innocent selves.
Paul and his friends were at the brink of their lives as adults, but both their childhood innocence and their adult potential were forcibly removed by the violence of the war. When Paul for example returns home on leave, there is nothing left for him; he has lost all his enthusiasm for books and for writing. Earlier in the novel, when he remembers his work ethic on a piece of literature he was constructing, he feels as if he is thinking about a stranger.
Each character in Paul's vicinity brings with him or her some element of the war's effect upon the psyche of young men. As such, each is necessary in order to provide the reader with the full spectrum of the horror at the time. The author spares nothing in his depiction of these horrors.
Joseph Behm for example represents the senseless death of the young. All the more ironic is the fact that Behm did not want to enlist in the first place. Lieutenant Bertinck serves as a counterpart to Behm. Bertinck survives two years without a single wound, but dies a hero's death close to the end of the war. A further irony in these two characters is the fact that there is not much difference between them besides the luck of survival. In war, the only requirement of a hero is simply to survive.
Detering, another of Paul's friends, represents the anti-hero of war who cracks under the pressure. He is a quiet man, but the reader knows that he is a farmer, and that the farm is being managed by Detering's wife while he is at war. Detering projects his worry and fear regarding to war into his farm to such an extent that he deserts the army to ensure that his wife is handling her farm duties well.
Corporal Himmelstoss in turn represents everything that Paul has learned to distrust in authority. Having been misled by a trusted teacher, Paul's view of the older generation as liars and victimizers of the weak is reinforced by Himmelstoss. He uses his power to perpetuate his brutality, a trait that is exacerbated by the fact that he does not like Paul and his friends. He considers them to be difficult trouble makers. Himmelstoss also however represents the way in which the war can completely change even the most brutal heart. When he is sent to the front, the corporal finally learns to work on his connections with others.
Franz Kemmerich, Albert Kropp, Leer, and Muller are all classmates that join Paul in the war. With the exception of Kropp, who is sent home after an amputation, they all die, leaving Paul with less and less to live for himself. In this both Kropp and Kemmerich are representative of the ugly truth of war, which the civilian population would not like to admit. They both have limbs amputated; Kemmerich dies soon after his amputation, but Kropp has to live out the rest of his life with his maimed body.
Stanislaus Katczinsky (Kat) is one of Paul's closest friends. At 40, he serves as a counterpart to Kantorek and Himmelstoss. Kat is the exception to the rule of mistrust that Paul has learned to apply to the older generation. Kat uses his years not as a crutch for brutality, but rather to display wisdom and cunning. When Kat dies, Paul is left truly alone with the destructive effects of the war all too obvious in both his psyche and his body.
With its variety of characters, the novel displays a shocking picture of the true realities experienced by young soldiers during…