A Farewell to Arms

Introduction of A Farewell to Arms

A Farewell to Arms was published in 1929, and one of the best literary works of Ernest Hemingway. The novel describes the Italian campaign during the First World War. Written in the first-person point of view, the story shows Frederic Henry, a lieutenant working as an ambulance driver in the Italian forces is involved in a love affair with a nurse, Catherine Barkley. Apart from the love story, the novel exclusively talks about the absurdity of war and his flight from duty to Switzerland where he loses his love during childbirth. The novel was also adapted to screen, television, and stage several times. The novel presents the personal experience of Hemingway as an ambulance driver.

Summary of A Farewell to Arms

The story starts with Frederic Henry, the American soldier, working as a driver of an Ambulance for the Italian armed forces. When the war loses its first momentum, Henry visits Itay. However, when the spring sets in, he again joins the forces on the front where during his medical duty, he meets Catherine Barkley and immediately falls in love with her. She is working as a nurse in a British Hospital but is interested in Rinaldi, his friend. When Henry enters the picture, Rinaldi fades away in the maze of war, leaving both Catherine and Henry to be involved in a seduction chess game where Catherine expresses her sorrow upon the loss of her fiancé, and Henry is fed up with his medical duties. When both of them meet, Henry provides emotional support to her despite his own traumatic experience on the front.

It happens that Henry suffers injuries on the front and is brought back to Milan in a surgical unit to be operated upon. However, when he learns that his recovery would take at least six months, he becomes agitated and strikes a deal with a chatterbox, Dr. Valentini to perform the necessary operation at once and make his return to the front. When he comes to know that Catherine, too, has arrived in Milan, he demonstrates his jubilation and stays in the hospital under her loving care. The next few months of his hospital stay his love for her grows steadily unlike earlier where he describes his affair with her as a bridge game and reaches a point where he plans to leave this mess to start life anew. When he comes to know that his injured leg is alright, he gets permission for more leaves for full recovery before returning to the front. In fact, he has a plan to go on a trip with Catherine, who discloses her pregnancy to him. Meanwhile, Henry catches jaundice from the hospital. Another bad luck strikes that Miss Van Campen alleges that it is Henry who has brought the disease to the hospital due to his drinking. She suspects that he is pretending his illness and gets his 3-week convalescent leave revoked. The following day, he goes to the front after the suspension of his leave. Henry promised  Catherine that they’d reunite and marry after his return from the war.

When Henry senses that the Italians are going to witness a route soon and men are dying on daily basis, he becomes terrified. Soon excessive bombing further takes its toll on him and the allies ready to retreat from the front. It becomes apparent that Henry has to leave with his colleagues. Soon, they start evacuation in a long column and they take an alternate road to avoid bombing. However, it happens that their cars are stuck in the mud where Henry calls for engineering sergeants but one of them gets a shot from him for refusing to work and leave fearing the enemy overtake. When they leave, they face the mud again and start the journey on foot. Then it happens that a terrified guard kills a driver, making drivers decide to surrender rather than be killed in the homicide attacks. However, Henry suggests taking shelter in a nearby farmhouse but the chaos of the other day leads to the execution of the Italian commander for putting soldiers in harms’ way. When the military police arrest Henry for this, he flees and dives into the nearby river. He again reaches Milan and tries to reach Catherine, thinking that he is no more obligated to join the front.

Soon, he meets Catherine in Stresa from there they both head for Switzerland in a boat and after a successful escape, they reach Montreaux where they start living a happy life. When spring comes, they shift to Lausanne to have a hospital near them. Unfortunately, Catherine goes through tough labor and has a stillbirth. Later, she hemorrhages and dies in Henry’s hands. . Henry is, then, left alone to roam around in the foreign land.

Major Themes in A Farewell to Arms

  1. Love and War: The theme of love and war revolves all the way through the novel, especially in Frederic Henry and Catherine Barkley’s life and challenges. Although it is considered that soldiers are too tough to fall into love and leave the front, Henry proves that love could go even under the worst attack. In one sense, it is a condemnation of war that has robbed the people to express or present their fine feelings like love. However, when this blissful period of Catherine and Henry prolongs and enters their personal lives as they try to leave the front and live a happy married life, it becomes obvious that love is stronger than death and war. The pleasurable diversion of Henry soon develops into true love that ends when Catherine dies during childbirth in Switzerland.
  2. Living in Depressing Times: Henry and his love story during WWI presents human life that is worth living even during the pressing times. He proves that can love during the war under the worst situation like the war on the front and also shows that he can go on loving even when fleeing the front. However, when he comes face to face with the death of his dear wife, he seems to lose nerves, yet he has the power to walk in the streets. Hence, Henry shows grace even during depressing times.
  3. Destruction: The novel presents the theme of the destruction of WWI to make the readers aware that war robs the people of their finer feelings. This was written on the brink of WW2. However, as humanity is to go on, they still love each other and avoid war as far as possible. When the war takes its toll, it brings destruction of human life on earth as well as human psychology. The senseless killing and fratricide of guards when Henry and others retreat from the front shows this seamy side of the war.
  4. Reality and Fantasy: Hemingway beautifully presents that although it is good to fantasize about life, reality always proves destructive for it. Catherine pretends during the war that she can escape the pain of the death of her fiancé by loving Henry. However, she finds the reality that Henry, too, is in the same war. Henry’s assumption that they can escape pain by escaping war does not seem real. However, then the death of Catherine waits for him in Switzerland is a painful reality of life.
  5. Duty and Self: The theme of duty and individuality looms large in the novel in the shape of Henry working as an ambulance driver and Catherine as a savior of the soldiers. However, Henry comes to know after a long struggle and his successful escape that “every man is for himself.” Therefore, he persuades Catherine to leave the front with him to Switzerland to live a happy life as a couple.
  6. Religion: The role of religion is not much yet it seems significant in that a sound from a foxhole or trench of WWI says that “There are no atheists.” Despite this, Henry does not see the role of God in these happenings and denies His existence, too. However, it is also interesting that he follows Count Greffi’s theological teachings and shows his devotion during his love with Catherine.
  7. Diversions: Diversion means moving the attention away from the bitter realities of life. Henry tries to love Catherine with religious devotion as a diversion but is trapped in it to be left alone in the world. Catherine, too, does the same to forget the war and death of her fiancé, but unfortunately dies of complications during childbirth.
  8. Abandonment: It is common to see abandonment in melees such as war and chaos. Catherine commits herself to Hery but sees that Henry may leave her. Helen fears that Catherine may leave her alone in the war, and Bonello and Henry leave other drivers when it comes to retreat. Finally, Henry leaves all others when he sees no chance of saving his life is going to work.

Major Characters in A Farewell to Arms

  1. Frederic Henry: Frederic Henry, an American lieutenant, is the narrator and the protagonist of A Farewell to Arms. Working as an ambulance driver on the Italian front, he is an American who seems not committed to serving the allies. However, when the hell breaks loose, he sees war robbing him of his caring nature. He falls in love with Miss Barkley and takes her to Switzerland to have the bliss of married life. However, fate has other plans for him as his wife, Catherine dies, leaving him alone to face the bitter realities of life and cope.
  2. Catherine Barkley: Working as a medical-aid detachment, Catherine Barkley is committed to marrying a soldier who becomes the dies in WWI. Henry, however, finds an opportunity to meet her in the midst of pandemonium where soldiers are dying in the frontline. Thinking it a diversion, Catherine too falls in love with him but feels trapped when Henry takes her to Lausanne where she dies during childbirth, leaving him alone to labor the difficulties of life.
  3. Lieutenant Rinaldi: Rinaldi is a lieutenant and roommate of Henry. Despite his being a womanizer, he lives with Henry who is romantic toward women. When it comes to women, he declares that every lady is his beloved, discarding the idea of committed to the previous one. At some point, it seems that he may be involved in some homosocial relationship with Henry, for he always turns to him when he feels that he needs Henry’s assistance.
  4. Priest: This young man is close to Henry’s unit to boost the confidence of the soldiers but he becomes a center of jokes among the soldiers. The only believer in the company of non-believers, the priest uses pidgin Italian to make his point clear to the soldiers. Henry tolerates him for his common argument of anti-war stance.
  5. Helen Ferguson: Ferguson is another female character besides Catherine who is her best friend, and also a close confidante. Despite her generous assistance in the love affair of Katherine and Henry, she is doubtful of their intention of marrying each other.
  6. Bonello: Bonello is a very cruel driver of an ambulance working for the Italian forces in the medical corps. However, he stays loyal to the protagonist, Henry, and stays with him until he flees for his life.
  7. Ettore Moretti: This dual national soldier is important in the course of the novel for his insulant behavior toward others. Although he has won medals and awards for bravery, his character has been presented in contrast to Henry to make Henry prominent among such bloodthirsty people.
  8. Dr. Valentini: Dr. Valentini is known for his chatty nature. He treats Henry and helps him recover early to flee the front and marry his sweetheart, Catherine Barkley.
  9. Aymo and Ralph Simmons: Aymo is a driver who is killed during the retreat, while Simmons helps Henry get food and clothing on regular basis and also helps him escape the front.

Writing Style of A Farewell to Arms

Hemingway used his signature writing trait of presenting characters and their dialogs in declarative sentences and terse language. The purpose of this language is to make the narrator present his story as if he is a detached person who is quite truthful in presenting the realistic picture of the scenes and things. The diction is formal at times and suits the purpose. Most of the dialogs are very concise and terse, serving the purpose of showing the true characters of the persons in context.

Analysis of Literary Devices in A Farewell to Arms

  1. Action: The main action of the novel comprises the participation of Frederic Henry in the war being fought on the Austro-Hungarian border. The rising action occurs when Henry dives into the river to flee during his retreat. The falling action occurs when Catherine breathes her last during the childbirth at Lausanne in Switzerland.
  2. Antagonist: A Farewell to Arms shows the wars, here the WWI as the main antagonist against Frederic Henry in his quest for happiness.
  3. Allusion: There are various examples of allusions given in the novel.
    i. “The Pope wants the Austrians to win the war,” the major said. “He loves Franz Joseph. That’s where the money comes from. I am an atheist.” (Book-1, Chapter-)
    ii. I looked across the wire at the Austrian lines. Nobody was in sight. I had a drink with a captain that I knew in one of the dugouts and went back across the bridge. (Book-I, Chapter-4)
    iii. “You’re not a Catholic, are you?”
    “No. But they say a Saint Anthony’s very useful.”. (Book-I, Chapter-8)
    iv. Did she understand that? Cleopatra the former queen of Egypt. Yes, by God she was. We returned to the little hospital in the ambulance and after a while and much lifting I was upstairs and in bed again. (Book-II, Chapter-15)
    The first allusion is theological, the second geographical, the third again theological and the fourth one is historical and geographical.
  4. Conflict: The are two types of conflicts in the novel. The first one is the external conflict that is going between two armies in WWI. Another conflict is in the mind of Henry and Catherine about their position in the war, their duties, and their personal happiness.
  5. Characters: A Farewell to Arms presents both static as well as dynamic characters. The young soldier, Henry, is a dynamic character as he shows transformation during his role in the war. However, the rest of the characters do not see any change in their behavior, as they are static characters like Rinaldi, Miss Gage, Catherine, Helen, and the priest.
  6. Climax: The climax takes when Henry says goodbye to the war front and leaves for his own life to marry Catherine in Lausanne.
  7. Foreshadowing: The novel shows the following examples of foreshadowing,
    i. Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised
    powdered the leaves of the trees. (Book-I, Chapter-1)
    ii. The next year there were many victories. The mountain that was beyond the valley and the hillside where the chestnut forest grew was captured and there were victories beyond the plain on the plateau to the south and we crossed the river in August and lived in a house in Gorizia that had a fountain and many thick shady trees in a walled garden and a wistaria vine purple on the side of the house. (Book-I, Chapter-2)
    iii. “This war is terrible,” Rinaldi said. “Come on. We’ll both get drunk and be cheerful. Then we’ll go get the ashes dragged. Then we’ll feel fine.” (Boo-III, Chapter-26)
    These quotes from the novel foreshadow the coming events.
  8. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. For example,
    i. The road ended in a wrecked village. The lines were up beyond. There was much artillery around. The houses were badly smashed but things were very well organized and there were signboards everywhere. (Book-III, Chapter-27)
    ii. Anger was washed away in the river along with any obligation. Although that ceased when the carabiniere put his hands on my collar. (Book-III, Chapter-33)
    iii. I took a good room. It was very big and light and looked out on the lake. The clouds were down over the lake but it would be beautiful with the sunlight. I was expecting my ife, I said. (Book-4, Chapter-34).
    iv. The railroad crossed it near San Dona going up to the front. It was deep and slow there and quite narrow. Down below there were mosquito marshes and canals. There were some lovely villas. (Book-IV, Chapter-35)
    These examples show the use of the images of color, nature, sound, and light.
  9. Metonymy: The novel shows the use of metonymy. For example,
    i. I had gone to no such place but to the smoke of café’s and nights. (Book-I, Chapter-3)
    ii. The battery in the next garden woke me the morning and I saw the sun coming into the window and got out of bed. (Book-I, Chapter-4)
    In the first example, smoke is used for cafes and battery for sounds.
  10. Metaphor: A Farewell to Arms shows a perfect use of various metaphors. For example,
    i. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels. (Book-I, Chapter-1)
    ii. The British hospital was a big villa built by Germans before the war. (Book-I, Chapter-5)
    iii. The wine was bad but not dull. It took the enamel off your teeth and left it on the roof of your mouth. (Book-I, Chapter-7)
    iv. She was not ready to leave because she had disliked me for a long time and she was now cashing in. (Book-II, Chapter-23)
    In these metaphors, something has been directly compared to something else; such as the bed of the river, the big villa, the roof, and cashing in shows the comparisons.
  11. Mood: The novel shows various moods but the most haunting is tragic and ironic.
  12. Motif: Most important motifs of the novel are the rivers, rain, escape, birth, and death.
  13. Narrator: The novel is narrated from the first-person point of view, Henry, the mouthpiece of Hemingway.
  14. Protagonist: Henry is the protagonist of the novel. The novel starts with his entry into the world and moves forward as he grows in the war and then roams Lausanne in Switzerland after the death of Catherine.
  15. Repetition: The novel shows the use of repetition. For example,
    i. Maybe she was lying thinking about me. Blow, blow, ye western wind. Well, it blew and it wasn’t the small rain but the big rain down that rained. It rained all night. You knew it rained down that rained. Look at it. Christ, that my love were in my arms and I in my bed again. That my love Catherine. (Book-II, Chapter-29)
  16. Rhetorical Questions: The novel shows good use of rhetorical questions at several places. For example,
    i. “How do you do?” he asked. He put some packages down by the bed, on the floor.
    “All right, father.”
    He sat down in the chair that had been brought for Rinaldi and looked out of the
    window embarrassedly. I noticed his face looked Very tired.
    “I can only stay a minute,” he said. “It is late.”
    “It’s not late. How is the mess?”. (Book-I, Chapter-11)
    ii. Why isn’t there somebody here to stop them?” I said. “Why haven’t they blown the bridge up? Why aren’t there machine­guns along this embankment?” (Book-III, Chapter-31)
    This example shows the use of rhetorical questions posed but different characters not to elicit answers but to stress upon the underlined idea.
  17. Setting: The setting of the novel ranges around the Austro-Hungarian border, and Switzerland.
  18. Simile: The novel shows good use of various similes such as,
    i. The battery fired twice and the air came each time like a blow and shook the window and made the front of my pajamas flap. (Book-I, Chapter-4)
    ii. In the dark it was like summer lightning, but the nights were cool and there was not the feeling of a storm coming. (Book-I, Chapter-I)
    iii. You’re like a snake. A snake with an Italian uniform: with a cape around your neck.” (Book-III, Chapter-34)
    iv. “I wish we did not always have to live like criminals,” I said.
    “Darling, don’t be that way. You haven’t lived like a criminal very long. And we never live like criminals. We’re going to have a fine time.” (Book-III, Chapter-34)
    v. “It looks just like the woodcutters’. Did you see the man with the tiny gold earrings?” (Book-IV, Chapter-400)
    These similes prove that one thing has been compared to another thing with the word “like.” For example, the first one shows air compared with a blow, the second light with the lightening, the third a person with a snake, the fourth life with criminals, and the last a person with a woodcutter.