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Essay on The Symbolism of Water in A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

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The Symbolism of Water in A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway


A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway, is a story about love and war. Frederic Henry, a young American, works as an ambulance driver for the Italian army in World War I. He falls tragically in love with a beautiful English nurse, Miss Catherine Barkley. This tragedy is reflected by water. Throughout the novel Ernest Hemingway uses water as metaphors. Rivers are used as symbols of rebirth and escape and rain as tragedy and disaster, which show how water plays an important role in the story.

Rivers in A Farewell to Arms represent rebirth. They symbolize a departure from a previous life and an entrance to a new one. The first evidence of this comes during the retreat of the Italian troops from their post. While walking with his fellow soldiers, Frederic is arrested and fears that he will be executed. "He jumps in the river with a splash" allowing it to float him along. It is like when Frederic jumps in the river, he is baptizing himself and cleansing his soul.
The trip down the river gives him time to think about his future life with Catherine, even though he is uncertain if there will ever be a future between them again. The river eventually takes him to a railroad where he makes the decision that he is done with the war and that he made his "farewell to arms". Hemingway uses water as a metaphoric cleansing for Frederic’s past experiences. When Henry emerged from the river, it was as if he was reborn.

Rivers in this novel can also be a symbol for an escape. Weeks later, when Frederic hears from the barman about his expected arrest, he and Catherine escape for Switzerland by boat. They leave their old lives behind in search of a clean start in Swit...


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...o be correct. Hemingway uses rain as a sign of death, sadness or to give one of his characters the state of being afraid. The despair brought by rain, Frederic says „ good-bye to [Catherine], and then „[leaves] the hospital and walk[s] back to the hotel in the rain". The rain described as he walks home represents again a cleansing in which Tenente will be forced to start a whole new life now.

Ernest Hemingway uses water as a metaphor that foreshadows events in A Farewell to Arms. He distributes water through the entire story. Escape, or a cleansing effect, of Frederic Henry takes place in a river. Rain predicts unfortunate events, such as the death of Catherine, which causes Frederic to sadly begin a new life. However, this time he does not have a companion - he must learn to survive alone. Hemingway uses a lot of water to show many symbols and affect the story.


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