Self-actualization in A Farewell to Arms

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The Italian front of World War I, while remembered as less devastating than the blood bath in France, reflected every deplorable aspect of war. The effects were far reaching; nearly 600,000 Italian soldiers lost their lives, and more than a million were wounded. Among both the enlisted and civilians, no person escaped the poisonous touch of the war. Such was the case with Frederick Henry, an American architecture student in Rome at the time the war began. When he joined ranks as an Italian Lieutenant, Frederick never anticipated the misery that would accompany military life. However, save a few chapters mid-novel, Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms is by no means a painful account of the tribulations and tragedies of war.

In the midst of pervasive evil, Frederick finds salvation in the form of love. His relationship with Catherine Barkley is a respite from the savagery. Their "union" leads him to establish his own principles and is ultimately his refuge from the massive chaos of war. Hemingway gives several clues throughout the novel that foreshadow Catherine's role in Frederick's development as well as the impact that their relationship has on his life. The reader can trace a pattern of regression from the war, each time mirrored by a progression in his attachment to Catherine. Conversely, a period of deeper devotion to Catherine predicts a revolution in his regard to the war. By the novel's conclusion, a reformation has occurred in Frederick Henry. He is transformed from a disillusioned young man, into a weathered soul that has suffered life's greatest agonies: to lose in love and to lose in war. When Henry is first introduced, he is arrogant and dissolute and h...

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Finally, the desertion is his is ultimate act of self-actualization and commitment to Catherine. Henry makes a "farewell to arms" and washes himself of any responsibility to a war in which he has little interest. Book Four is a brief interlude of peace and normalcy for the couple. Once they have escaped to Switzerland, Catherine and Frederick anticipate an idyllic existence. But Book Five is close at their heels, and unimaginable tragedy looms in Hemingway's foreboding words, "If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them." Of course, Hemingway has given away the ending, but only as Book Five ends, is the reader aware of the magnitude of Frederick's loss. Frederick is a transformed man, schooled by her love, forever changed by the war, and a completed person for their time together.

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