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A Farewell to Arms

Key Facts

Main ideas Key Facts

full title  · A Farewell to Arms

author  · Ernest Hemingway

type of work  · Novel

genre  · Literary war novel

language  · English

time and place written  · 1926–1928; America and abroad

date of first publication  · 1929

publisher  · Charles Scribner’s Sons

narrator  · Lieutenant Frederic Henry

point of view · Henry narrates the story in the first person but sometimes switches to the second person during his more philosophical reflections. Henry relates only what he sees and does and only what he could have learned of other characters from his experiences with them.

tone · As the autobiographical nature of the work suggests, Hemingway’s apparent attitude toward the story is identical to that of the narrator.

tense  · Past

setting (time)  · 1916–1918, in the middle of World War I

setting (place)  · Italy and Switzerland

protagonist  · Frederic Henry

major conflict · While there is no single, clear-cut conflict, friction does arise when Henry’s love for Catherine cannot quell his innate restlessness.

rising action · Henry and Catherine’s flirtatious games prepare and sometimes foreshadow their love for each other; their last days together before Henry’s return to the front zero in on the demands of love versus Henry’s life outside his relationship with Catherine.

climax  · Broadly speaking, the Italian retreat, but more specifically, Henry’s capture and near-execution by the battle police

falling action · Henry’s decision to flee and quit the army marks his farewell to arms and his commitment to Catherine.

themes  · The grim reality of war, the relationship between love and pain, feelings of loss

motifs  · Masculinity, games and divertissement, loyalty versus abandonment, illusions and fantasies, alcoholism

symbols  · While Hemingway avoids the sort of symbol that neatly equates an object with some lofty abstraction, he offers many powerfully evocative descriptions that often resonate with several meanings. Among these are the rain, which scares Catherine and into which Henry walks at the end of the novel; Henry’s description of her hair; the painted horse; and the silhouette cutter Henry meets on the street.

foreshadowing  · Catherine’s conviction that dreadful things are going to occur; the rainfall that scares her in the night; the doctor’s warning that Catherine’s hips are narrow; Henry’s musing on how life kills the good, the gentle, and the brave