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The protagonist of the novel is Paul Baumer, a young man who is barely twenty years old. He has enlisted in the infantry and serves on the German Front. Both strong in character and compassionate, he hates war and feels that it is an utter waste, leaving behind emptiness and desolation. He also feels that it is the ordinary man who is most hurt by war.
Baumer's antagonist is the entire situation of the war. Although he has chosen to join the war effort because he has heard it glorified, he quickly realizes that it causes devastation and destruction with thousands of people losing their lives.
Baumer jumps into a shell hole when he finds himself alone. Another French soldier, Gerald Duval, jumps in the hole with him; Baumer panics at the sight of the enemy and stabs him. In remorse over his action, he bandages Duval's wound, but Duval dies. Suddenly Baumer realizes the complete tragedy of war, for the enemy is not just a faceless person, but is composed of scared young men just like himself.
The plot ends in tragedy with the death of many innocent people. The true tragedy is that Baumer dies one month before Armistice, just before 'all is quiet on the front'.