"If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially." The greatest American novel to emerge from World War I, A Farewell to Arms cemented Ernest Hemingway's reputation as one of the most important novelists of the twentieth century. Drawn largely from Hemingway's own experiences, it is the story of a volunteer ambulance driver wounded on the Italian front, the beautiful British nurse with whom he falls in love, and their journey to find some small sanctuary in a world gone mad with war. By turns beautiful and tragic, tender and harsh and realistic, A Farewell to Arms is one of the supreme literary achievements of our time.
Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms captures the inspiring trials and tribulations of a disillusioned man caught between love and war. Driving an ambulance on the Italian front of World War One Frederick Henry discovers his values as he realizes his love for Catherine Barkley, a innocent English Nurse.
An American Second Lieutenant in the Italian Army’s Ambulance Corps, Frederick Henry is depicted as an average man in search of a set of values. Initially Frederick is lonely, lustful, confused and restless, but as he becomes involved with Catherine Barkley he finds his niche, and a meaning to life. Frederick can be considered heroic in that he is honorable, not interested in material commodities, and puts his fellow soldier before himself. When the entire mess hall teases the priest Frederick defends him and is his only true friend. Also, when offered an award, Frederick refuses. Additionally, when he and the other drivers were bombed, he ignores his own injuries to assist the others and insists that the doctors treat others before himself. Catherine Barkley is a young English nurse who has already lost a fianc to the war and is introduced as partially crazy. She begins her relationship with Frederick retending, he is her lost fianc who has returned, but soon falls! in love with him and regains her sanity. Throughout the story Catherine remains static, and represents the ideal Hemingway character that Frederick is to become as the novel comes to an end.
The basic plot of the novel revolves around Frederick’s relationship with Catherine. The theme shown is that love can come from even the strangest places, also there is a basic good versus evil shown by the dramatic tragedy at the end.
A Farewell to Arms is a very emotional and understanding story. Throughout the book Frederick acted as a confused hero with Catherine as his guidance. Frederick is very realistic and while he is a better man than the average he has several flaws. Catherine on the other hand is entirely too perfect.She seems almost supernatural, like an angel at times. Initially when she is a little insane her character was more believable. The story is written in the first person narrative where Frederick is the narrator and sometimes refers to future events. Overall, A Farewell to Arms is an excellent book that while not always action packed kept me reading and surprised me many times. "We did not do the things we wanted to do; we never did such things" (Hemingway 13). This single sentence voiced early in Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell To Arms by the American protagonist, Lieutenant Frederic Henry, sums up the rather pessimistic and drab tone and mood presented in Hemingway's works, particularly this novel, which also reflects the pessimistic and judgmental mind housed within the author.
From the beginning, Frederic and Catherine's relationship started in a strange state. Frederic knew Catherine was a little cooky, but he still continued to pursue her. He did not even love her at first, but he still needed a way of escaping his present situation, so he decided what the hell, and went after her. Plus, he really didn't think he had anything to loose. There were no stakes named from the start. He didn't really care if he lost anyway.
"I did not love Catherine Barkley nor had any idea of loving her. This was a game, like bridge, in which you said things instead of playing cards. Like bridge you had to pretend you were playing for money or playing for some stakes. Nobody had mentioned what the stakes were. It was all right with me. (Hemingway, 30-31)
But this is where Frederic made his mistake. He kept his distance from right and wrong regarding war and love. He had separated himself from war and seemed to have no place in it at all, mentally or physically (for example when he is in the hospital in Book Two). But when Aymo is killed by his own army, Frederic discovers the reality that he is not really separated from this event at all. He is very much part of this war whether he likes it or not.
The four themes of fear, suffering, courage and comradeship are prominent issues which are raised in the novel Farewell to Arms. The protagonist, Frederick Henry faces fear when he is injured where he admits his own fear. He shows courage without second thought when he helps injured men coming from the front. Individual suffering is shown through the eyes of Frederick Henry having to face the death of his wife and child. Physical suffering is obviously shown by the men that get injured in the war. This physical suffering provides the context in which courage can take place. Comradery, surprisingly, doesn't seem to be as obvious in the novel as the other themes; it is mainly shown by the nurses' commitment to one another and the 'male bonding' at the mess. There also seems to be more of an individual comradery within friendships and with individuals rather than a whole group. In fact, there doesn't seem to be a sense of people working together for a common cause.
These four themes contribute to the many decisions that Frederick Henry has to make. That is in regards to the war and his relationship with Catherine, he has an inner conflict with himself with external forces pulling him in opposite directions which the protagonist must sort out which is more important to follow.
Frederick Henry is an American who serves as a lieutenant in the Italian army to a group of ambulance drivers, whom is portrayed by Hemmingway as a 'lost man' searching for order and value in his life.
The fear and suffering the Frederick Henry has in his life which he experiences by the war, shows him how pointless the war is, he disagrees with the war because it is too chaotic and immoral for him to rationalize its cause. However, he fights anyway, in order to achieve the discipline which the army forces into his life. The courage he has in the war and comradeship or the individual comradeship he has with various people such as Catherine and the priest gives him a sense of order and value in his life that the war does not give him. Frederick Henry befriends the priest because he admires the fact that the priest lives his life by a set of values that give him an orderly lifestyle. He has a special bond with the priest and when he stops going to the mess as much as he used to, the Priest says: "I miss you at the mess" (Page 63). His relationship and bond that he has with the Priest also brings some order and value in his life. However this order is different from the sort of order found in the army.
His comradeship that seems forced upon him by the other men at the mess where he is forced to fit in by drinking and traveling from one house of prostitution, he is discontent by this is because his life is already unsettled and lacking any order. Frederick Henry mentions this earlier in the novel:
"They talked too much at the mess and I drank wine because tonight we were
not all brothers unless I drank a little and talked with the priest" (Page 35)
not all brothers unless I drank a little and talked with the priest" (Page 35)
This individual comradeship that has been mentioned is shown by his personal relationships with the other men in the army, they all share one common thing, in that they are trying to survive while depending on others and showing commitment to do this.Rinaldi shows the bond that they have:"We are war brothers." (Page 62). The comradery that the men have is also made so by the amount of courage Frederick Henry shows, he puts other people before him, where he isn't trying to be a hero yet just being himself. Henry is a man who thinks about others and this is shown when he is injured: "There are much worse wounded than me" (Page 54). Not only does he show courage at this point but he experiences fear and also expresses this: "I looked at my leg and I was very afraid" (Page 51). It is here, that we realise that his acts of courage are not intentional for him to get recognition. We know this because when Frederick Henry is told that he is to receive a medal for his courage he doesn't think he deserves it. The main character does not do things to be a 'hero'.
Catherine also shows her fear of the rain mainly because she associates it with death and suffering:"I've always been afraid of the rain-and sometimes I see you dead in it." This morbid image that Catherine associates of the rain to death and suffering shows that rain can be just as unpredictable as the war, which is what Catherine has a fear of, loosing Frederick Henry to the unpredictability.