Stream of Consciousness in Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms

Stream of Consciousness in Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms

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Stream of Consciousness in A Farewell to Arms

    Many important American writers came to prominence during the Jazz Age, but their commonalities often stopped there. From lyrical to sparse, many different styles can be seen among these authors, such as those of Henry James, Edith Wharton, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, and Ernest Hemingway. One stylistic technique, stream of consciousness, was most associated with Joyce. Yet, Hemingway also used this technique with regularity and it is an important element in his war novel, A Farewell to Arms. This technique uses the interior monologue of a character to convey information, and thus the reader is allowed a more fluid picture of the true thoughts of the character, in this case, Lieutenant Frederick Henry. Also, the information contained in these stream of consciousness passages would not have been as effectively expressed in traditional prose style.


There are six specific passages in A Farewell to Arms that exemplify the stream of consciousness technique. Each of these is related to one of the themes of drunkenness and confusion, escape and fantasy, and disillusionment. These themes are presented in a progression, as Henry becomes more demoralized about his life and the war. The first passage comes early, as he relives the experiences of his weeks on leave. The Lieutenant has been drinking and his memories flow like the speech of an intoxicated person; continuing on from one subject to the next without regard for the listener. Of course, the reader is the only "listener" here, but there is a sense that Henry truly is lost in his own thoughts. His reeling thoughts attempt to summarize the previous few weeks in the following passage:


I had gone. . . to the smoke of cafes and nights when the room whirled and you needed to look at the wall, nights in bed, drunk, when you knew that that was all there was, and the strange excitement of waking and not knowing who it was with you, and the world all unreal in the dark and so exciting that you must resume again unknowing and not caring in the night, sure that this was all and all and all and not caring (13).


This description is in direct contrast to a previous description of the cold, clear, scenic Abruzzi, Henry's alternative vacation spot, emphasizing his confusion as well as the sensory overload of the Cova.

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Also, Henry mentions "not knowing" and "not caring," showing his current naivete about the war and his lack of concern with death at this point (13).


As Frederick Henry's involvement in the war increases, and he becomes bombarded by violence and suffering, his perspective changes, and his thoughts become an escape from his immediate situation. First, he makes casual evaluations of the leaders and armies involved in the war, and then, regarding his attitude of invincibility and distance from death, he thinks, "Well, I knew I would not be killed. Not in this war. It did not have anything to do with me. It seemed no more dangerous to me myself than war in the movies" (37). Being a young man who has not really invested himself into the war effort yet, his thoughts inevitably turn to his current object of affection, Catherine Barkley, and he fantasizes about a rendezvous with her:


Maybe she would pretend I was her boy that was killed and we would go in the front door...and I would stop at the concierge's desk and ask for the key and she would stand by the elevator and then we would get in the elevator and it would go up very slowly clicking at all the floors and then our floor...and she would step out and I would step out and we would walk down the hall and I would put the key in the door and open it and go in and then take down the telephone and ask them to send a bottle of capri bianca in a silver bucket full of ice...(37-38).


This is a very simple passage with no analysis or evaluation of the events, and it serves to paint a visual picture of Henry's thoughts, which could be seen as more images than words. Farther into their relationship, his thoughts turn, once again, from the weariness of the retreat to his longing for Catherine and his developing feelings for her. He dreams about a conversation with her that has not really happened, and the stream of consciousness technique effectively portrays his drifting thoughts and longing for escape. In this passage, a progression in Henry's character can be seen, from partying immortal to more of an exhausted soldier longing for home.


The final direct glimpses into Frederick Henry's mind occur at the hospital during Catherine's difficult delivery. His frustration with the futility of his situation, and his fear of losing his true love have escalated and he has finally become resigned to death as a punishment for all. Henry says, "And this was the price you paid for sleeping together. This was the end of the trap. This was what people got for loving each other... So now they got her in the end. You never got away with anything. Get away hell! It would have been the same if we had been married fifty times" (320). Later, the baby is found to be dead, and he continues, "Now Catherine would die. That was what you did. You died.... You could count on that. Stay around and they would kill you" (327). Clearly, Frederick Henry has been changed by the war and now the death of his child and wife in a way that he had not foreseen as an immature soldier. Hemingway's use of stream of consciousness to bring the reader directly into the mind of Frederick Henry allows the reader to identify with his situation, as well as to see the progressive change in the character.


 Works Cited

Hemingway, Ernest. A Farewell to Arms. New York, NY.: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1957.
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