Ernest Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms

In his novel A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway contemplates the issues of romantic relationships, war and one man’s fate in the times of deepest despair. It is a remarkable fact that the author succeeds in paying close attention to each of the aforementioned aspects. Moreover, each issue is being contemplated within a novel from different perspectives. Clearly, the issue of war in itself evokes many kinds of emotions. The end of war makes people cherish life and brings relief that comes with knowing that people whom you love survived. On the other hand, war causes death, pain, loss, grief and despair. When it comes to war, killing becomes an evil necessity. In this regard, the mission of art is to show the outcomes of each action taken and how frightening and horrible the evils of war are. As far as the novel under analysis is concerned, it is important to admit the following. Ernest Hemingway, the author, presumes that women are incapable of defending themselves, although they are capable of taking care of the wounded. The mission of men, in its turn, is defense. A famous saying tells: all people are created equal. Hemingway’s novel proves that each human being is unique, but what all people have in common is their desire for love and peaceful existence.

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Basically, A Farewell to Arms positions itself as the story of romantic relationships between Lieutenant Frederic Henry, an ambulance driver, an American who servers in the Italian army, and an English aide/assistant nurse, Catherine Barkley. The events described in the novel take place during the World War I. As far as the issue of the formal peculiarities of literary piece under analysis is concerned, it is important to admit the following. The structure of the novel is ramified: it is comprised of five books and contains 41 chapters. The novel contains many memorial episodes, for example, a terrifying episode when one of the engineering sergeants was shot (Hemingway 218). The other vivid description is connected with the retreat of Italian army. In his writing, the author is keen to the smallest details. Moreover, in this particular passage the author is making an attempt to capture a moment. Whether the state of nature, humans, animals, vehicles and machinery – all of the elements are in inseparable connection in this particular episode (207).

The novel is reflective to a greater extent in a sense that the main character ponders much and the issues he is contemplating are mostly ethical and/or philosophical. One of the most cynical and, at the same time, most truthful reflections is the following:

If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so

of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the

broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very

gentle and the very brave impartially (Hemingway 267).

There are few possible ways to explain and interpret the aforementioned excerpt. It reflects the main character’s perception of life and man’s purpose. At other times such reflection can be regarded as a sort of presentiments – foreshadowing of the events that may follow. Such ideas came to Lieutenant Henry’s mind when he and Catherine Barkley reunite in Stresa.

Catherine Barkley dies at childbirth (Hemingway 354-355). Naturally, incapable of consoling oneself, Henry leaves the apartment (Hemingway 355). Thus, the author makes the novel’s ending opened, seeking to provoke thinking among readers.

Brian Giemza, a specialist in literature, in his turn, is making a reference to the novel’s opening passages. The researcher admits the importance of the opening episodes of A Farewell to Arms for understanding Ernest Hemingway’s creative manner. The excerpt has been regarded by scholar Anders Hallengren as “one of the most pregnant opening paragraphs in the history of the modern American novel” (qtd. in Giemza 119). Vivid, accurate and succinct manner that one can observe in the opening paragraphs of Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms was termed “lapidary writing”. The term was coined by Anders Hallengren himself (Giemza 119). Himengway’s tactics is the following: the author “zooms in and zooms out: he gives the panorama, lingers on a detail, and pans back again” (Giemza 119). By doing so, the author is attempting to capture a moment and illustrate the motion of time and its pace. Specifically, Brian Giemza is referring to Hemingway’s description of the leaves falling down from a tree, which is not just a powerful symbolic metaphor, but makes a great contribution to the author’s tactics of setting the scene and pacing (Giemza 120). With regard to its partial symbolism and the presence of metaphors, combined with the simplicity of form, Ernest Hemingway’s creative manner is characterized as mainly reflexive and allusive (Giemza 120).

A researcher William E. Cain, in his turn, admits that Hemingway’s works are “deep and difficult”, thus, at the same time, “hard to comprehend and describe” (Cain 376). Hemingway’s personality, according to Cain, is prodigious as the author possesses powerful and complex thinking (376). The researcher claims that the novel A Farewell to Arms is partly autobiographic, referring to Ernest Hemingway’s relationships with Agnes von Kurowsky, an American nurse whom the author met after a mortar attack in July 1918, in course of which he was badly wounded (Cain 376). Even though the story is being told in the first person singular, it is important to realize that the author himself and his novel’s protagonist, Lieutenant Frederic Henry, are two different personalities.

In order to prevent any prejudices concerning the protagonist of his novel, Ernest Hemingway does not specify the time in which the events of the novel take place, even though the few clues are given (Cain 378). As far as the issue of perception of time in the novel is being concerned, it is important to admit that the author is making use of retrospection. To put it more simply, the protagonist is narrating the past events. Apparently, his perception of the later, his point of view might have change. Thus, it is possible to assume that the protagonist’s perception of past events has become perverted the moment when he started recalling and reconsidering them (Cain 387-380).

With regard to this, the moral dilemma that evolves is the following: whether Frederic Henry can be accused of Catherine Barkley’s and their child’s death or not. The very idea that the moral conflict aforementioned should be taken into consideration suggests that the author gives a greater account of romantic relationships than of other issues, such as war and peace, loneliness and one man’s fate on the background of significant historical, political and social changes. Having studied the plot of the novel thoroughly, one may arrive at conclusion that the statement cannot be fully justified in a sense that Ernest Hemingway in his novel A Farewell to Arms dwells on the destinies of two people who have encountered war and loss. Moreover, there is a strong proof that the author attempts to conserve the model of society and the reality that existed when the World War I has started.

To put it more simply, it is possible to say that there is no denying the fact that love-story is an integral part of the novel under consideration. The truth, however, is the following. The presumption that other issues addressed in the novel are meaningful as well is quite justifiable. At the same time, one should be aware of the fact that any work of literature, any piece of fiction can be regarded as a credible source for historical study. With regard to this, it is important to admit that Ernest Hemingway’s works have much common with the works of Erich Maria Remarque, for instance, in terms of thematic frameworks and perception of reality. The peculiar features of Hemingway’s writing are allusiveness and a greater account of form, whilst the works by Erich Maria Remarque are explicit and appear to be more truthful, which indicates the greater account of content.

Implied meanings in Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms have much connection with the novel’s protagonist (Harrington 59). The title of the novel, in its turn, can be regarded as a play upon words. Having familiarized oneself with all the plotlines of the novel, one may assume that the whole story is being deciphered in its title (Harrington 59). A word expression “partial articulation” can be viewed as one of the brightest examples of pun as a stylistic device that were employed by Ernest Hemingway in his novel (Hemingway 103; Harrington 60). In some way, the concept of partial articulation suggests implied meanings behind Frederic Henry’s reminiscences of his actions and words. In its turn, the fact that there are many implied meanings behind Frederic Henry’s reminiscences of his actions and words casts doubt on his reliability and integrity as the narrator.

Another great and valuable observation made by scholar Gary Harrington is the following. Count Greffi, one of the characters of the novel under consideration, is making a reference to H.G. Wells’ work Mr. Britling Sees It Through; however, he has misplaced the words and the title of the work, according to Count Greffi, would be Mr. Britling Sees Through It (Hemingway 278). The point that the researcher Gary Harrington is trying to make is that Ernest Hemingway has distorted the title of H.G. Wells’ novel in his own work for a good a reason (Harrington 61). It presupposes that Frederic Henry’s motives and his nature as the protagonist and the narrator of the novel require thorough investigation.

A researcher Gerry Brenner accentuates the importance of Ernest Hemingway’s own experiences in the World War I for creating the novel A Farewell to Arms (Brenner 27). The researcher also stresses upon hospitals as the locations where the vast majority of the key events of the novel take place (Brenner 27). The latter statement proves that the novel A Farewell to Arms was, to a greater extent, inspired by the life of Ernest Hemingway himself. It, in its turn, proves that A Farewell to Arms can be regarded as a semi-autobiographical literary piece. Apparently, ethic and esthetic considerations have made him artistically reconsider his life and experiences (Brenner 27).

A Red Cross banner is considered to be another powerful symbol representing, to a certain extent, the relationships between Frederic Henry and Catherine Barkley (Brenner 27-28). A cross and the colors of white and red allude the flag of Switzerland. Switzerland in the novel is the main character’s place of salvation as exhausted by the horrors, pain and suffering of war they flee to this country, known for its neutrality in the years of the World War I and World War II. With regard to the novel’s storyline, it is possible to assume that both characters’ wounds are never healed. Art, in its nature, is capable of seeing the future and such ability is counted among its most important functions. Catherine Barkley’s death, the rain in the final episode of the novel and the fact that Lieutenant Frederic Henry stands alone can be regarded as a tragic omen – an omen that implies that the war is not over yet.       

Lieutenant Henry’s actions speak for themselves and prove that he is aware of warfare, as well as the events being told of, and their pace until the moment when he faced loss and grief (Brenner 28-29). Clearly, Lieutenant Henry also realizes that theories of warfare and militarized reality differ drastically (Brenner 29). All things considered, Gerry Brenner advocates the position that Frederic henry is a reliable narrator by all means. On the other hand, military landscape and a great amount of casualties – the horror of war – stand opposed to beautiful nature and architecture. To put it more simply, there is a strong contrast between the militarized reality of men and the romantic flavor of the described setting, for the most of the novel’s events take place in Italy, the land of Renaissance, the cradle of science, philosophy and law.  

Taking all the aforementioned facts into consideration, it is possible to make the conclusions as follows. Above all else, A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway is a novel of romance, in spite of the fact that the author gives a different perspective on romantic relationships. Other issues being addressed in the novel under consideration are war and peace, solitude, the value and meaning of life and the fate of one single person on the background of significant historical, political and social changes. In some ways, the novel under analysis can be regarded as a semi-autobiographical work. The novel is reflective, stylistically loaded and allusive in a sense that many implied meanings is another peculiar feature of the novel under consideration. The novel’s implied meanings have to with the novel’s symbolism. The novel’s symbolism, in its turn, makes a great contribution to understanding of Ernest Hemingway’s creative manner and, at the same time, the nature and motives of the novel’s narrator and protagonist, Frederic Henry. While the novel itself is allusive, Frederic Henry’s motives are elusive (Brenner 30).

A Farewell to Arms is the story of two people who have encountered war, loss and severe pain, desired for love and tried to seek peace amongst the dark times. One has to be prepared to read the works like this and should take them consciously and seriously. To put it more simply, one should pay close attention to all formal and contextual elements that one can observe in a work of art of that kind. A Farewell to Arms is worth reading, for its place within the scope of Ernest Hemingway’s works is exceptional. Thus, it makes a great contribution to better understanding of Ernest Hemingway’s books.


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