Hemmingway has a unique style of writing. It works on multiple levels. A person could read Farewell to Arms and enjoy it as a tragic love story. Hemmingway’s concise writing style allows a literal interpretation. At the same time a reader could get involved with the various symbols that he has placed in the novel. In a way everything he has can be used as a symbol depending on a person’s biases. This is what makes Hemmingway’s writing even more unique. He can have what seems to be a straightforward sentence have multiple meanings
. The transcendentalist and romantic writing styles leave ideas vague so the reader can reflect on his/her own thoughts. Hemmingway is pragmatic in the sense that his writing can be read literally, but also romantic if you read his work more in depth.
One symbol that Hemmingway seems to use constantly is night and the fear of darkness. Fredrick is afraid of the dark. What this seems to mean is that Fredrick is afraid to be in the unknown. This is the idea that males want to know what is around them. Fredrick is afraid of what he does not understand. This symbol is also seen in “A Way You’ll Never Be” where Hemmingway’s character Nick will not sleep without a light. When a person sleeps they are resting and it seems that Fredrick does not want to rest without “knowing”. If Nick were to have the light he would be able to see what was going on. This would allow Nick to “know” what is happening. Thus it could be seen that the symbol of the unknown and how the male characters want to “know” what is happening. Another analysis of this could be that Fredrick is afraid of the malicious things around him. This is the superficiality of the male. Basically in this sense the male wants to live in his perfect little world and not worry about the complexities of life. This is the opposite of the fear of the “unknown” because in this sense the males do not want to know. Fredrick would then be scared of the evil around him. War is part of the “evil” around him because with war comes with real sadness. Frederick’s fear of darkness is really fear of those evil elements and the sadness around him. Fredrick is afraid of the sad reality. He wants to live in the simple superficial world he is in. In this sense Nick’s fear of sleeping in the dark has a different view. The idea here is that while Nick is scared of the evil around him as long as there is some good he can rest in peace. Basically this is saying that as long as there is something good to hold on to Nick would be OK. Another reflection of this idea is in “Hills like White Elephants” where the male keeps saying “perfectly simple”. This is the concept of the male being cursory. He wants to be “simple” and live in a world where there is no evil to be seen. The male in “Hills like White Elephants” wanted to be simple and he wanted to live in a world with out evil.
Another interesting symbol in Farewell
was the Priest. The Priest seems to reflect two different symbols in Hemmingway’s novel. First of all the Priest is part of the Hemmingway code of discipline. The Priest is a very disciplined character. Fredrick looks up to the Priest because he is so disciplined. Discipline is an important part of the Hemmingway code of honor. Self-discipline and being in control of the situation are two extremely important aspects of the Hemmingway code of being a hero. Throughout the novel Fredrick seems to be able to control the situation. When he was wounded he ordered the doctor to heal him. He chose to leave the war and even after Catherine’s death Fredrick still remains in control. The average person would most likely be shattered completely, but he said, “it was like saying good-by to a statue”. The idea here is it is like saying good bye to something inanimate, something frozen in time. Fredrick was in control enough to move on in his own life. The Priest is also a symbol of Hemmingway’s view on religion. The officer ridiculed the Priest. This is saying that men don’t want God anymore. During the time of World War II faith was down by many people. This is because people could not understand that if there is a God why would these atrocities happen. This made people lose faith in religion and ridicule religious figures like the Priest. Hemmingway is stating that people are ridiculing God. Another idea of God, which is complex, is that God is everlasting. Fredrick is a character that likes ephemeral things. Drinking and prostitution are ephemeral. They are straightforward and are quick pleasure. To achieve the concept of “good in God’s eyes” it may take a lifetime. A lifetime that people don’t want to wait. That is why Hemmingway’s characters mock God, they want “quick pleasure”.
Hemmingway also uses the symbol of rain quite a bit. In a biological sense rain can represent death. This is because in certain moist environments bacteria (cholera, which was mentioned by Catherine) can grow at an increased rate and thus bring death. The rain is used when Catherine dies at the end. Also Catherine was scared of the rain. Catherine’s fear of the rain was foreshadowing her death, but it also has another reason. Catherine is expressing a submissive role to Fredrick. Catherine is in a way stating that she wants to be protected from death. It seems that Catherine is playing the typical fairy tale female when she says she is afraid of death. She wants to be saved from death by a male. Hemmingway uses the rain to mean death also in his vignettes in chapter five. This is where soldiers were dying in the rain. Another idea that where there is rain there is death. The rain and death combination could also have another meaning. Rain typically reflects sadness because it is like the Earth crying. Every time death is present it rains. In this view Hemmingway is saying where there is death there is sadness. Another example of where the rain was used as sadness is where Fredrick left for the war. It rained when Fredrick left Catherine this was because it was a sad event. Yet another example of where the rain represented sadness is where Dr. Baker says “the rain has stopped, light floods the window”. Light typically has the symbolic meaning of either happiness or enlightenment. In this case Hemmingway is using light to mean good. When rain, sadness, stops light, good, floods the world. This is an interesting quote that Dr. Baker made, which reaffirms the rain being a symbol of sadness.
Hemmingway has a variety of symbols that can be viewed in different ways. Hemmingway’s symbols are a direct reflection of the reader’s biases. This is much like how the romantic writers are vague so a reader can come to his/her point of view. All good books are not completely black and white. While they may have a black and white story such as Farewell to Arms, there must also be a deeper meaning. Yet the deeper meaning is not supposed to be black and white. The meaning is what the reader has learned from the book. Obviously this message is derived from a person’s own biases, but that is what makes the lesson apply to that person. Hemmingway allows this type of lesson to be learned, but at the same time he has a clear and concise love story that is reflective of a Greek tragedy. Perhaps the idea of the tragedy is because of Hemmingway’s own tragic life, but that is a whole other story.