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A Farwell to Arms

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Hemingway tried to tell the truth about his times, to correct the “lies” which former generations told, whether wittingly or unwittingly.

Raymond S. Nelson

Ernest Hemingway is one of those American writers whose books are popular all over the world. Having read one work, there is a desire to read more works of this writer. Ernest Hemingway is one of the most considerable US modern writers. His creativity is closely connected to his biography. Having graduated from the middle educational institution, young Hemingway went to Europe as a part of a motorcade of the Red Cross. In 1918, he got a severe wound at the Italian - Austrian front. After the war, Hemingway was working as a reporter in Europe and in the east. Since the beginning of the 1920s, living in Paris, he started writing his literary works (Amoia, 2002).

The name of an outstanding American writer Ernest Hemingway became a symbol of a literary success and glory, a perfected skill, diligence and a deep, sincere love to a person, the searches for the true values of life, reflection over the destiny of “the lost generation” of the World War I. The writer told about severe environment of the war, essence of a restless life of the former veterans and their girlfriends, about the loneliness of brides, who did not have enough powers to wait for their beloved men (Kimbrel, 1999). 

Creativity of any true artist always has deep connection with an era and its moral problems. This relation is shown with a special spontaneity in Hemingway’s novels. His creativity cannot be separated from his biography, though this biography, naturally, appears to be comprehended and transformed. Hemingway was not a simple chronicler of life. He wrote what he knew well, saw and worried. However, his personal experience, on which he relied, served only as the base of the erected building of his creativity. Hemingway formulated this principle in the following words, “To write novels or stories means to invent on the basis of what you know. When it is possible to invent well, it is more truthful than when you try to remember how it happened in reality” (Svensson, 2008).

The paper aims to analyze the system of Hemingway’s characters that he has created in the novel “A Farwell to Arms”. The work discusses the circumstances that have influenced characters’ personalities and their development. The central characters of Hemingway’s novels and some stories are very similar to each other; they received the collective name “the Hemingway’s hero”. “Hemingway’s heroine” is considered as an idealized image of the unselfish and appeasable woman, the beloved of the hero, for example, the Englishwoman Catharine in “A Farwell to Arms”. A little less accurate but more significant image, which plays a key role in Hemingway’s works, is a person symbolizing “the Hemingway’s code” in the matters of honor, bravery, and firmness.

According to the ideas of the author, the hero of Hemingway is doomed to overcome challenges of life. He is placed irrespectively of own will to the conditions when a person passes a check on durability (the World War I, a typhoon, a bullfight arena, a Latin quarter in Paris, the Civil War in Spain), but faces, first of all, a duel with oneself. The change of heart, loneliness compose the destiny of all Hemingway’s heroes. It is the leading motive of the whole creativity of a writer, and even his “peace” stories which bear a stamp of war.

Hemingway’s heroes are courageous people who resist the destiny and overcome alienation stoically. There is a part of the author’s identity, his unbending will to life in each of them. Frederick Henry, the hero of the novel “A Farewell to Arms”, is one of such people. Hemingway finished the novel “A Farewell to Arms” in 1929, after having returned to America from France and having lodged in Florida, in Key West. The novel made a huge success both among critics and readers. Many literary critics consider this novel to be the best work of the writer whose clear, squeezed and very capacious style let to achieve its perfection.

Critics generally agree that “A Farewell to Arms” is Hemingway’s most accomplished novel. It offers powerful descriptions of life during and immediately following World War I and brilliantly maps the psychological complexities of its characters using a revolutionary, pared-down prose style. Furthermore, the novel, like much of Hemingway’s writing during what were to be his golden years, helped to establish the author’s myth of himself as a master of many trades: writing, soldiering, boxing, bullfighting, big-game hunting (Chilton, 2012).

“A Farewell to Arms” is a story about several months of the lieutenant Frederick Henry’s life, who served in a sanitary group of the Italian army. It is the story of a man who endured the tragedy of a war. The novel depicts the bitterness of enlightenment after the first wound and a loss of companions, the attempt to escape from the military hell. The hero of the novel is an American lieutenant Fred Henry. He is a volunteer at the war. Soon he is convinced that he, as well as simple soldiers and drivers of his sanitary department, is not interested in the imperialistic war. However, not to believe in war and even to hate it does not mean to define a true place in events. Fulfilling his duty of a soldier, and in essence, the will of those who wage war, Hemingway’s courageous hero is “the winner who does not receive anything”. Fred Henry shows endurance, the presence of mind, but, nevertheless, becomes the deserter in connection with the defeat of the Italian army. He tries to oppose the war considering the more important notions of people’s life as personal happiness and love. However, the death of his beloved woman Catharine Barkley deprives him of this shelter from the war and its absurdity.

Hemingway used the quote from the poem of the English playwright and the poet of the 16th century John Peel, who wrote about a glorified soldier, in the name of the novel. The Hemingway’s irony is obvious. His novel does not show the glory of the weapon, but it depicts its tragic defeat. The romantic idea of the war is connected with a figure of Napoleon, a war of systematic approaches and waste, with the solemn delivery of the cities consecrated with a ritual.

The illogicality, cruel absurdity of a modern war destroys the illusions of the lieutenant Frederick Henry. After the young man saw a battlefield, he was finally convinced that this war was not necessary to the Italian people compelled to pay off for the nonsense of the governors by their lives. He understood that the appeals to war for the democracy actually covered a fratricidal slaughter and high words “holy civic duty’, “nice feat”, “victim” mean nothing. Nevertheless, the novel “A Farewell to Arms” is not anti-militaristic by the author’s plan.  The lieutenant Frederick Henry does not oppose the war as it is.  The war is a courageous craft of a real man.  However, according to Hemingway, this “craft” completely loses a high valid meaning against the battles, which are terribly illogical, where people are played with as puppets.

The front line on this “new” war, where there are no friends and strangers (the Austrians are practically not personified in the novel), is conditional. The discovery of this measurement of the war happens both under the influence of a wound, and as a result of the conversations of the lieutenant with simple people who act as experts on the most reliable truth. Henry realizes not only an inaccuracy of own participation in this war, but also the fact that there is no “civilized” way to leave it. The wounds, stay in hospital, again front, retreat with the Italian army are the stages of a military destiny of the main character. He, like a deserter, is put to the execution together with the other Italian officers, who have beaten off from their parts.

When Henry sees that there is no hope of rescue that interrogation does not give the chance to survive, he decides to escape. The climax of the story is the retreat of the Italian armies after the battle at Kaporetto and execution of the receded officers. After all, at this moment the final enlightenment, the final understanding of anti-naturalness and war illogicality come. As a result of this understanding the soldier, who executed his military duty, finally refuses the further participation in “a senseless slaughter”, which is favorable to only a small group of the ruling class.

A relief comes to Henry with understanding. There is no more anger, and a call of duty is rejected. As the war starts, being identified with an absolute cruelty of the world, love is strengthened. The author could combine the most important human values in his novel such as duty and love, separation and expectation, life and death. In fact, all the novels of the “the lost generation” depict both love and friendship, because they often are the beginnings which help the hero to survive.  However, the Hemingway’s hero was not lucky to find happiness. The writer found such words and situations in which love in the novel appears in its importance. It pulls Fred out from the world of the ordinary, prosaic relations, inspires him, makes him stronger, spiritually enriches, and gives hope to his soul. The subject of unsteadiness of human happiness becomes the central theme of the novel “A Farewell to Arms”. This subject was solved by the writer considering the background of a huge historical event of the World War I.

Hemingway enclosed all the hatred to the senseless and cruel war where the “victims very much reminded the Chicago slaughters, only meat was simply earthed”. Moreover, the brutality, anti-humanity of this slaughter become a special relief when a pure feeling of love between the American lieutenant Frederick Henry and the nurse Englishwoman Catharine Barkley blossoms in the atmosphere of blood, sufferings, and deaths of thousands people. Their love is penetrated by the feeling of a tragic element.

The relations with a nurse Catharine Barkley started as a mere flirt. Before a meeting with Catharine Frederick he treated love with some share of cynicism, considering that he does not need serious long relations. The beauty of the English nurse “with golden skin and grey eyes” captivated the lieutenant, but the real feeling flashed while Catharine was included into hospital chamber where Frederick was staying after injury. Surprisingly, the lieutenant tells about the feelings to the beloved girl as impartial as he was telling about the participation in military operations, attacks, and retreats. Such a tone of narration is peculiar to Hemingway, who considered that there is no need to speak about the feelings and emotional conditions. It is enough to describe the circumstances under which they arose.

I kissed her and saw that her eyes were shut. I kissed both her shut eyes. I thought she was probably a little crazy. It was all right if she was. I did not care what I was getting into. This was better than going every evening to the house for officers where the girls climbed all over you and put your cap on backwards as a sign of affection between their trips upstairs with other officers (Hemingway, 1995, Chapter 6).

The feelings of heroes were mutual. Both of them considered that they became a husband and a wife after the day when Catharine came to hospital.  The summer of love became the brightest and joyful in Frederick’s and Catharine’s lives. Hemingway could transfuse to his readers the mutual understanding, care, and small signs of attention and big pleasures. There were some months of happiness which young people, escaping from the prosecutions of the Italian gendarmerie, spent in Switzerland. There were infinite conversations, walks and dreams of a happy future; there was a true and great happiness. Unfortunately, this happiness broke as suddenly as began. A long painful childbirth took his beloved woman, a child and a hope for a happy peaceful life away from Frederick.

The death of beloved people claims Frederick in thought that a romantic and sublime love is impossible in the modern world, as well as “romantic” war. It seems that Frederick and Catharine were ready to the tragic end for a long time, arguing how the depersonalized car of war killed the most worthy people. The generation of the lieutenant Henry looks at life, without creating any illusions concerning the future; these people know in advance that they are doomed to be martyrs and lose their love.

Hemingway, as a writer, has a special style considering the way to form a personality of his character. With the emergence of the first stories and novels of Ernest Hemingway the critics paid attention to the exclusively big place which was taken by dialogue of characters in his works. He forced the descriptions and author’s characteristics of heroes out, and dramatized prose. Along with the denseness of dialogues, his deliberate lexical simplicity amazes. The Hemingway’s heroes speak an ordinary language. There are no poetic metaphors in their speech. However, there is alive, trembling thought, which as though does not lay down in words, remaining in the “implication” of a work. It is possible to decipher the implication, only having comprehended the moral condition of the hero, who is as though concealed from the interlocutor (Reynolds, 1991).

Hemingway’s dialogue becomes complicated by the fact that his characters speak of the most various things, “jumping” from one subject to the other. They do it involuntarily, remembering something by association. However, this substitution of one subject with another is very important for Hemingway. It forces the readers to reject all casual, alluvial things in conversation in order to distinguish a true movement of human feeling from the “peel” of daily words.

The style of Hemingway reflects the complexity of the outlook of the great and honest writer, painfully looking for the answer for all the questions. Hemingway is valuable as a writer, because his books give the way to understand a lot of things in modern political life, to learn how to separate a false patriotism from a real service for the country and the world, to understand people of different generations.

The novel “A Farewell to Arms” became a major landmark in the creativity of Hemingway. The decades pass, but the interest to it is not weakened. The tragic story of Frederick Henry, a young American volunteer, who has become the deserter, helped the writer to track the formation process of “the lost generation”, which endured the World War I and became spiritually devastated. This history helped to explain why people renounce the recognition of any ideological dogmas and military service. However, Hemingway’s heroes never give up. The defeat makes them stronger, gives forces to look for and find the sense of existence in the most important human relations of friendship and love. “A Farewell to Arms” is love stories at the level of separately taken destinies, but also narration about the search for the sense and confidence of the world. This book can be considered religious to a certain degree. Though it does not give a religious interpretation of events, it is cast by obviously religious perspective.

Hemingway’s effect on modern American literature is difficult to gauge, but tangible nonetheless. Drastically different authors such as Kerouac have claimed him as an influence. Recent scholarship has panned Hemingway for narrow-mindedness and misogyny, but his work remains indispensable for understanding an important period of our history (Svensson, 2008). 

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