A Farewell to Arms is a 1929 book written by E. Hemingway. The plot of this work is set in the times of the World War I in Italy. Since Hemingway himself served in Italy during the WWI, it is frequently assumed that this novel is based on his personal experiences, and thus is autobiographical. The novel discusses the difficulties two people in love face during the war. A Farewell to Arms is a novel that vividly depicts the horrors of military conflicts and senselessness of any war by contrasting it with the warmth of human love and affection, while disclosing such important aspects as masculinity and loyalty.
The plot of the novel is narrated by an American soldier, who was sent to Italy to drive an ambulance for the Red Cross during the World War I. The narrator tells his story in the past tense, which assumes that the narration is a retelling of past events. At the beginning of the novel, Frederic Henry meets an English nurse, Catherine Barkley. They start a romantic relationship, and Henry realizes that he loves her. In a three-month period, Catherine gets pregnant, while Frederic is sent back to the front. On the battlefield, Henrys unit is forced to retreat and during the evacuation, he shoots a man for the first time. As the enemy approaches, Henry has to decide whether to let himself be killed or to escape and he decides to leave the army. He reunites with Catherine, but soon after the soldiers come to arrest Frederic for deserting his post. The couple escapes to Switzerland, and live there waiting for the baby to be born and hoping to start a new peaceful life. However, due to a very complicated labor, Catherine dies, and her baby is born dead. Frederic is left alone, and returns to the hotel as the rain falls.
The title of the novel gives a clear idea what the main theme of the book is. Since most of the work is centered on describing the horrors of the World War I, the title can be interpreted as a call of the author to all the people in the world to say farewell to all military conflicts and weapons, which are used to harm both people and the environment. Additionally, since the main character had abandoned his post as the driver of the ambulance for the enemys army during the retreat of his troops and run away with his beloved one to another country, the title might also refer specifically to the farewell of Frederic Henry, who decided to end his personal participation in the war, and never to use weapons again. Additionally, it may be assumed that the author also used the word arms in another context: as the main character decides to leave the front and start living with Catherine, he moves away from arms in the sense of weapons to be close to other arms the arms of the woman he loves. Since Catherine dies by the end of the novel, Frederic is also forced to say farewell to her arms.
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The problem of the destructive war is central to many of Hemingways works since the Modernist style in which he wrote was born from the tragic experience of the World War I that turned out to be even more terrible than it was expected. A group of writers, who were prominent at the beginning of the 20th century, was thus called the lost generation because people felt lost in a world destroyed by the Great War. It is assumed that the circular chronology of the protagonists narration in A Farewell to Arms is intended to show that the war is not taking place in some remote location, but that it is always here, present. Thus, Hemingways novelis rather chaotic; for example, it is possible to trace the tumult of feelings of the main character as he says, Well, we were in it. Everyone was caught in it and the small rain would not quiet it. Similarly, Hemingway underscores the difference between the past and the present in the plot as the main character, who narrates the story, starts actively revising his memories. Some critics also claim that Henry is an example of a person, who mastered his war trauma by turning it into an organized narrative. It is possible to trace the chaotic state of all people, who were caught in a war through this novel: their despair, loneliness, and the pain of being separated from the people they loved.
Hemingway managed to present a very detailed description of the absurdity and senselessness of the military conflict and its brutal and violent chaos. Dodman claims that traumatic wartime experiences affect the human ability to express themselves fully and meaningfully through the language structures. Similarly, the scene in which the Italian army retreats is one of the greatest depictions of the horrors of war in Modernist literature: together with the neat columns of men and cars, the minds, the nerves, and the ability to think rationally and make correct moral judgements of the soldiers begin to break down. As the events escalate, Henry kills one of the men, who refuse to help him taking the vehicle out of a muddy road. This scene is very indicative since Henry is portrayed as a person with a rather cool temper throughout the previous chapters; thus, this flash of rage seems very untypical of him. Moreover, the reasons for the incident are also rather absurd since the situation could have been resolved in a peaceful manner. Therefore, the senseless murder of the engineer can be explained and justified only when evaluating it through the prism of the chaotic war, which stimulates the spread of the unjustified violence.
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The second important theme of this work is love and its interrelation with pain during the war. For both main characters, Frederic and Catherine, love became a way of escaping the horrors of reality. At the beginning of the novel, when she meets Henry the woman is mourning her dead fianc?. Right after the confession that she was supposed to marry soon, Catherine starts seducing Frederic because she feels the need to distance herself from the pain of her great loss. Similarly, Henry, tired from the calamities of war, also wanted to move away from the military problems. Therefore, originally, the two characters simply found temporary comfort in the company of each other, which allowed escaping things that haunted them. However, soon their feelings grew from fascinating distraction to the power that gave them hope, and brought meaning to their lives. Henry started comprehending that his love for Catherine was more important than the abstract ideals of honor, which under the conditions of war he participated in, has become empty and useless.
This new understanding forced him to escape the war and start a peaceful life with the one he loved. The couple planned their idyllic life together and hoped to do everything possible to fix the damage the war had caused in any possible way. Far from the military actions, the two people became each others refuge, and thus tried to heal each other emotionally, physically, and psychologically. It is assumed that Hemingways characters are too passive, and that for them things are already done. However, it is unreasonable to expect much energy and enthusiasm from people, who experienced the destructive effects of war.
Towards the end of the novel, the readers may assume that the two in love have finally reached a safe place, but the author brings the tragic reality into the lives of his characters and demonstrates that everything, even true love, is temporary in our world. In the novel, the author uses rain to symbolize the upcoming tragedy. Previously, when Catherine and Frederic lie in bed listening to the storm outside, she tells him that she is afraid of the rain because she imagines herself dead in it. When at the end of the novel Catherine is taken to the hospital for the labor, the rain starts falling, which allows the readers to guess that she might not survive. Reynolds claims that Hemingway created other endings for the novel, even one where the baby survives. However, he had chosen the tragic ending to demonstrate that the life of the main character has ended, and that all he has left is his memories.
One of the main motifs of the novel is the depiction of masculinity. Hemingway usually portrays a very specific type of a man, namely a very competent, dominating, and virile one. In A Farewell to Arms, the author also includes distinct male characters to present the concept of manhood. For example, such minor characters as Rinaldi, who is a loyal friend, and Dr. Valentini, who is a professional in his work, which makes him one of the best surgeons, exhibit the examples of a good man. Similarly, during the chaotic incident when Henry kills one of the engineers, Bonello takes control over the situation. Hemingway portrays all these men with great respect even when they face complicated situations and highlights their positive qualities through the humorous depiction of the characters that oppose them. For example, Rinaldi justifies his rather active sexual life by attacking the priests complete indifference to physical pleasures, while Dr. Valentinis competency looks even greater when he is compared to the doctors, who worked before him.
Another important problem discussed in the novel is the problem of loyalty. In A Farewell to Arms,the main character demonstrates that the notion of loyalty should be applied to such phenomena as friendship and love, and that it should not be confused with the meaningless military duty at war, or political preferences. Even though Henry takes his duty in the army rather seriously, such ideas as military honor or patriotism do not mean much to him. Although Henry shoots the engineer, who refused to obey his orders, it is obvious that he did it only because the situation was very tense and stressful, not because he believed that it was the right thing to do. Henrys decision to abandon his post demonstrates that for him being loyal means to be with and support the person he loves, Catherine. This way the author demonstrates the inner conflict that every person must have faced in his life the need to choose between the close and beloved people and duty. Hemingways Henry demonstrated that peaceful life with the people you love should be more important than absurd loyalty to abstract ideals.
It may be concluded that A Farewell to Arms is a very complex novel, which addresses distinct important issues of human lives. Based on the real-life experience, this work demonstrates how the war can destroy the life of a single person, and shows that even if all misfortunes seem to be left behind, no one is safe from tragic events. The novel emphasizes that loyalty to the close and beloved people should always be more important than military duty, and that only in peace and love, not in war, senseless violence and aggression, people should seek their happiness because war only cripples, while love heals and gives hope for a better future.