Paul Bäumer, 19 years old, is the narrator of the novel, and he tells of his experiences in World War I in the present tense as they occur. He enlisted in the German army right out of high school after being told it was the patriotic thing to do. As he witnesses the atrocities and inhumanity of the war, he grows increasingly alienated and detached from his own emotions in order to survive. He can't imagine a future for himself or his comrades even if they survive the war. At the same time, he cares deeply for his friends and feels bonded to them throughout all they've endured together.
Stanislaus "Kat" Katczinsky, 40 years old, is one of Paul's closest friends as well as a mentor figure because he is older than Paul and his friends. He is clever and resourceful, a cobbler who is able to "cobble" together food and supplies when the soldiers need them most. He and Paul bond closely, and Paul takes his death the hardest.
Albert Kropp, 19 years old, is the character who is most interested in debating and analyzing the causes of the war and its repercussions. He is wounded in battle and his leg is amputated, causing him to grow increasingly withdrawn and bitter.
Fredrich Müller, 19 years old, is the most pragmatic of Paul's fellow soldiers. For example, he is the first to claim fellow soldier Kemmerich's boots as Kemmerich lay dying. He often wonders what he and his comrades will do after the war ends. After Müller's death, Paul inherits the boots.
Tjaden, 19 years old, is constantly hungry and obsessed with food and resources throughout the novel. He was tormented by Corporal Himmelstoss during boot camp training and harbors a deep grudge against him.
The soldiers encounter Corporal Himmelstoss during their training, and he makes their lives miserable by tormenting them. Previously a postman in civilian life with little authority, he takes advantage of his power during war, though after he experiences the front lines he feels badly and attempts to befriend the soldiers. Paul later believes his harsh treatment of them sufficiently toughened them up for battle.
Kantorek inspires his students to enlist in the war as their patriotic duty. After fighting in the war, Paul and his friends see how little Kantorek really knew about actual combat because his knowledge of war was so abstract.