A Farewell to Arms is one of the most famous war novels ever written. Unlike many war stories, however, the novel does not glorify the experience of combat or offer us portraits of heroes as they are traditionally conceived. What is the novel’s attitude toward war? Is it fair to call A Farewell to Arms an antiwar novel?
As the title suggests,
Discuss the various ways in which characters seek solace from the pains of a war-ravaged world. In the end, what does the novel suggest about such comforts?
From the beginning of the novel, nearly every character has a habit to which he or she turns to help alleviate his or her private suffering. Mourning the death of her fiancé, Catherine plays a distracting game of seduction with Henry. Rinaldi loses himself in the comforts of women, while the priest uses his faith in God to ease the pain of the war and the ruthless taunting of the soldiers. Nearly all of the characters rely heavily on alcohol to numb the daily assaults of the war, both physical and emotional.
The most appealing of all of these comforts is love, which Hemingway explores for its power to endow characters with a sense of security. Upon meeting, Henry and Catherine imitate conventional courtship, speaking words that seem stolen from a scripted romance. They engage in such behavior, they admit, in order to take their minds off the war. As their love grows stronger and more legitimate, they continue to treat it as a protective shelter: Henry abandons the army and ends up living in the supposed safety of neutral Switzerland.
In the end, however, nothing offers lasting protection. Rinaldi, Henry suspects, has succumbed to syphilis, reflecting the degenerate nature of Rinaldi’s values. The priest’s philosophies regarding God are outdone by Henry’s belief in the hollowness of lofty abstractions. Catherine, despite her all-consuming love, dies in childbirth. The novel suggests that no matter where characters turn for solace from the harsh circumstances of the world, the need for comfort and protection can never be fulfilled.
Discuss Frederic Henry as a narrator. Assuming that, as a character, he is writing his story many years after living it, how does he convey its sense of extreme immediacy?
The descriptive immediacy of
Additionally, the lack of other viewpoints contributes to the immediacy of the story—Henry, as though he is perpetually too engrossed in the moment to think outside of himself, never imagines the perceptions or feelings of other characters. He does not, for instance, presume to know what Catherine thinks or that she ever thinks anything other than what she says. Like a reporter, he simply reports what he sees and hears. This technique binds the reader to Henry’s experience, and interpretation, of the events that he details.