Use of Heroes in A Farewell of Arms by Ernest Hemingway

Use of Heroes in A Farewell of Arms by Ernest Hemingway

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Use of Heroes in A Farewell of Arms by Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway has the tendency to use his heroes in some unheroic ways. At first the hero may seem obvious, but later on it is discovered that the true hero is not who it seems to be. In A Farewell to Arms Hemingway uses the true hero to guide the main character into becoming a hero, but fails miserably.

Hemingway characterizes his heroes as people with strength, courage, and bravery, but even heroes have their flaws. For example, Frederic Henry, the protagonist of A Farewell to Arms, survives an artillery bombardment that kills one of his own men and badly injures him. Hemingway shows the strength of this character through his survival of the bombardment and full recovery of his wounds. Hemingway portrays Frederic as a hero through this strength. In addition, Fredric, being fully aware of the dangers from both the enemy and the Italian's, who mistake him and his drivers for German's, kill one of them, and then threaten to execute Frederic, who escapes. In this daring escape, Frederic presents his courage and bravery in a dangerous situation. Hemingway demonstrates that although one of Frederic's men dies, he is still courageous in that his escape was successful. Frederic Henry's potential as a hero is shown by Hemingway's illustration of events that depict Frederic's use of his strength, his courage, and his bravery (Lewis 46).

Occasionally even heroes make mistakes, which Hemingway describes very carefully. Frederic Henry and his men were retreating in their ambulances when along the way they picked up two sergeants and continued retreating. Later the ambulances get stuck in the mud and the sergeants were walking away leaving the stuck ambulance and refusing to help dislodge it so Frederic shoots one of them as the other flees (Lewis 49). When he shoots the sergeant he fails himself and becomes, in a way, inhuman. He accepts and acts by a military code that he later becomes unable to accept or act by when it is applied to him (Wylder 78).

Frequently throughout Hemingway's use of heroes there are two behaviors or types of heroes that he uses, these are the "Hemingway Hero" and the "Code Hero". The Hemingway hero is usually a masculine man who drinks, loves hunts and bullfights, and has war injuries.

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He is also almost always defeated physically, but never looses because hi victories are moral ones (Koster 35). One critic says, "Hemingway's heroes are in a sense, winners who take nothing, they are winners and the manner of their taking is individually self generated, within situations largely of their native resource for physical action and courage are given every possibility of expression (Rovit 25)." The code hero is the character that shows the Hemingway hero how to conduct himself; this person is very different from the Hemingway hero and makes up for what the Hemingway hero is lacking (Koster 43).

Although Hemingway's use of Frederic Henry seems heroic at first, he later makes him out to be more of an anti-hero than an actual hero. Deep into the novel A Farewell to Arms, Frederic points out that he, is in fact, not the hero (Wylder 88). In his own narration, Frederic states, "The world kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these than it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry." He identifies himself as one that the world is not in a hurry to kill, and therefore, not as one of the very good, the very gentle, or the very brave. He is not, then, one of the heroes (Wylder 70). Even though he has some characteristics of the traditional hero, several of his most important actions (or inactions) lead us to conclude that he might be better designated as an anti-hero, a protagonist who significantly lacks key heroic qualities. Other anti-heroic qualities are his being reactive rather than active, seeking pleasure for himself rather than others, and underhanded rather than honest (Lewis 45). Frederic is more like most of us than a hero and when given actual chances to help people, he like a hero tries, but unlike a hero, fails (Lewis 48).

Hemingway's true hero, the one that was supposed to guide the main character into becoming a hero, is none other than Catherine Barkley. It is not Frederic Henry who was as brave, as strong, or as courageous as Catherine was. Frederic, who everyone thought was the hero, has just been messing up and failing at everything he does throughout the book. The only thing that Catherine had failed at was guiding Frederic into becoming a hero. Not even through her death did Frederic Henry learn how to become a hero. And this is how Hemingway uses heroes in A Farewell to Arms.


Works Cited

Donaldson, Scott New Essays on A Farewell to Arms
Koster, Katie Readings on Ernest Hemingway
Lewis, Robert W. A Farewell to Arms the War of the Words
Rovit, Earl Ernest Hemingway
Wylder, Delbert E. Hemingway's Heroes

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