A Farewell To Arms By Ernest Hemingway


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In the beginning Frederic Henry, a young American ambulance driver with the Italian army in World War I, meets a beautiful English nurse named Catherine Barkley near the front between Italy and Austria-Hungary. At first Henry wants to seduce her, but when he is wounded and sent to the American hospital where Catherine works, he actually begins to love her. After his convalescence in the hospital, Henry returns to the war front. During a retreat, the Italians start to fall apart. Henry shoots an engineer sergeant under his command for dereliction, and later in confusion is arrested by the battle police for the crime of not being Italian. Disgusted with the army and facing death at the hands of the battle police, Henry decides he has had enough of war; he dives into the river to escape.

After swimming to safety, Henry boards a train and reunites with Catherine--now pregnant with Henry's child--in Stresa. With the help of an Italian bartender, they escape to Switzerland, and attempt to put the war behind them forever. They spend a happy time together in Switzerland, and plan to marry after the baby is born. When Catherine goes into labor, however, things go terribly wrong. He attempts an unsuccessful Caesarian section, and Catherine dies in childbirth. To Henry, her dead body is like a statue; he walks back to his hotel without finding a way to say good-bye.

As the title suggests, A Farewell to Arms is in many ways an anti-war novel, but it is in no way like a call to end all war. Among the books’ morals, violence is not necessarily wrong: Henry does not feel bad for shooting the engineer sergeant, and he tells Catherine he will kill the police if they come to arrest him. Furthermore, the novel glorifies discipline, competence, and masculinity, and shows war as a setting in which those qualities are constantly being shown.

A Farewell to Arms is against the extreme violence, the massive destruction, and the sheer senselessness of war; the mental effect it has on people and cities; and the brutal change it makes in the lives of its survivors once victory and defeat become meaningless terms. Unlike other books that glorify courage in battle and make everything come out ok for the brave individual, this book attempts a real portrayal of a different kind war, one fought with machine guns, in trenches, and with lots and lots of casualties.

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The aim of the novel is not to protest war or even to encourage peace; it is simply to depict the hostility and violence of a universe in which this sort of war is possible. The hard, uncaring way of the universe is treated as an unchangeable way of life; and the hostility of the people in that universe creates the war.

The detail in this novel bring out different themes as you read along. In the first two Books we are in the war and the war is overwhelming. In the last two Books we are in love. And, just as the first two Books are peppered with love in the time of war, the last two Books are tinged with war in the time of love. The third Book is the bridge between the two 'stories' and it is not surprising that it centers on the escape. It is during the escape that Henry resolves that he is through with the war and decides that all he wants is to be with Catherine. Until the third Book Henry doesn't seem to be agonizingly concerned with matters of right or wrong in the war and it seems, in fact, separate from him. Even when he is injured it doesn't appear that he is really a part of the war, which surrounds him. He maintains a distance from it and this distance isn't really closed until Aymo is killed by his own army, he discovers that Bonello is only staying with him out of respect, and he is almost killed as a spy. After this he resolves to desert the army and be reunited with his love, Catherine. Henry is no dummy and he could easily tell that everything was not all-correct with Cat, which leads to the question of his love for her. You must admit that Cat is a bit...well... flaky when they first meet. She loses that soon enough, although I couldn't help but distrust her honesty until somewhere in the middle of the fourth Book. It is also difficult to believe wholeheartedly in his love for her until much later in their relationship. It kind of makes you wonder if he is leaving his involvement in the war because of his unfailing love for Cat or if Cat and any feelings he has for her are just excuses to escape the insanity of the war he experiences in the third Book. When he is with Catherine, they are in another place, untouched by the war, both symbolically (in the tent of her hair) and literally (in Switzerland).

When I finished Farewell to Arms I was of course stunned by the death of Catherine and the baby and Henry's sudden solitude. "What happens now?" I felt, as I so often do when I finish a book that I want to go on forever. This is infinitely more difficult with a book that has no conclusion, and Farewell to Arms leaves a reader not only emotionally exhausted but also just as alone as Henry and with nowhere to go. The entire work was aware of where it was going and what was going to happen next, and then to stop the way it did was unfair. Hemmingway uses his cunning techniques as an author to make this book a definite winner.


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