Stories that capture war-life events and pitted with the period accustomed to the twentieth century are ubiquitous. They form a huge piece of literature, often intertwined with ordeals that explain the life of the author themselves, or other individuals. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway is an adequate representation of a fiction that fits into this criterion.
In retrospect, Hemingway’s picture of a war-love story is far from elaborate. He paints what is in his mind with unassuming words, removing all sorts of Romanization that is usually affixed to the experiences of war victims. The book was published in 1929, more than a decade after the First World War or the Great War.
Upon publication, the novel was believed to be profane, principally in the scenes that illustrated coitus and the obscene rhetoric of the soldiers. For this reason, he revised the work and published new copies for sale. For his profanity, he faced reprimand from many who did not fancy the pornographic descriptions and premarital sex that occurred in the novel.
A Farewell to Arms is looked upon as one of the best novels of the twentieth century. Yet, this piece will not be complete without bearing in mind, a profound analysis.
The story begins with Lieutenant Frederic Henry, an ambulance driver serving in Italy during the Great War. He tours Italy before he is transferred to the war front. Afterward, he meets Catherine Barkley, and an English nurse at a nearby British hospital and immediately falls in love. Catherine also harbors similar feelings since she is still grieving her dead finance and desires to trap herself in the illusion. This relationship quickly turns to one with words of seduction and promises.
When Henry is injured on the battlefield, he is taken to a hospital in Milan. Unfortunately, doctors tell him that he would have to stay for six months before getting his knee operated on. However, his potential ordeal is changed when a staunch doctor agrees to operate him immediately. After the operation, Catherine is transferred to the hospital in which Henry lays, and cares for him during his recuperation.
During this period, the love between the two intensifies, igniting fires of lust, passion and lost desires. In months the love birds have established a spark that continues to linger between them. Catherine becomes pregnant, yet, she insists on keeping the baby but not marry Henry. When his damaged leg is healed, the army grants him a leave of three weeks. However, he develops jaundice and is inculpated of inflicting on himself, the disease when alcohol is found hidden in his hospital room. For this, he is sent back to the war front.
He runs back to Milan after the Italian retreat at the battle of Caporetto in search of Catherine. He later learns that she has been transferred to Stresa, ninety-five miles away. He goes there by train, finds Catherine, and they both run off to Switzerland. After they reach Switzerland, they are accosted by the border patrol. They both feign as students of architecture and art. This grants them a pass into the country. In the meantime, they pass time and live happily in a wooden house.
The novel ends when Catherine goes into labor. Sadly, the baby is stillborn and Catherine begins to hemorrhage immediately after the stillbirth with Henry by her side. Soon after, she dies. A dishelmed Henry returns to his home, alone in the rain.
The novel is set between the years of 1916 – 1918, starts in Italy and ends in Switzerland during the Great War. It is a typical love story between a war soldier and a nurse, although carrying a tragic end.
One thing that is particularly special about the novel is the language Hemingway implores. A Farewell to Arms appears to be a crude account of the war with a simple writing style and plain language. There is nothing complex here and the original version of the novel included raw descriptions of coitus and vulgar rhetoric of the soldiers, a development that is so often sugarcoated. Although on the request of his publishers, his editor was compelled to replace the profanities with a dash, Hemingway eventually reversed the corrections soon after.
Hemingway does not implore the use of complex adjectives. He is direct with the way he paints his events and formulates his story. He also chronologically conveys this. The sequence of which starts with a war soldier falling in love with a nurse, they separate, eventually reunite when the soldier is injured. Again, they separate and reunite. Everything looks perfect when the sorry hands of the grim reaper cut the life of the nurse short.
And yet, it is a “tender love story” that captures the essence of empathy, passion, and desire. It views love as a reviver of hope for embattled soldiers and melancholic nurses who have nothing but the sour cries of injured soldiers to their bosom. Hemingway even regarded this novel as his own “Romeo and Juliet” seeing that the two are similar in nature and style. Both end with the death of the female protagonist lovers, only that Shakespeare’s play captures the story of Romeo and Juliet during the Montague-Capulet blood feud, while Hemingway’s novel is set during the Great War.
In the context allied with the novel, the Great War started August 1914 and ended in 1918. It began with the assassination of the Austrian Archduke Francis Ferdinand. The war led Germany and the Austro-Hungary Empire into an uneven battle with Britain, France, Italy, Russia, and the United States joining in 1917.
The potent A Farewell to Arms combines love and war. The book portrays a dual meaning of “arms”. When Henry left the Italian forces, he bid the army a “farewell to arms”, connoting his departure from the use of weapons. Likewise, he says, “farewell to the loving arms” after the death of his beloved Catherine. The relationship between love and war is reflective, a combination ever so relatable to individuals that have had to engage themselves with the scaly lanes of war.
A Farewell to Arms is Hemingway’s recant of his chronicles during the Great war. Perhaps, his novel is a message to all war soldiers, to enable them to find some element they can resonate with. The essence of his book was to paint the crude appearance of wars and the inevitable tragedy it comes with.
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