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A Farewell to Arms

Mans life is filled with trials in this world. He has been gifted with a great power of expression. He talks about these trials in his interactions with his fellow humans. Humans share the experiences and their perceptions of life through literature. Great books of literature are the books that talk about and depict human problems with artistic beauty. Literary greatness is defined by realistic description of life and the artistic beauty. Thus, literature instructs and entertains us. We understand human life and human problems through literature. There are best sellers which sellers who sell best for only a limited period of time. But, there are books which remain best sellers for generations. Talking about human problems is one of the features of such universally famous books. Such books talk about problems faced by man all over the globe. A Farewell to Arms is such a book. It is a story of human struggle. It has been liked and loved by readers of English literature for more than 80 years. Ever since its publication in 1929, the novel has strengthened Hemingways stature as a modern American writer. Today, Hemingway is regarded a giant in American literature. The novel appeared first in an environment of war disillusionment after the First World War. One of the themes in the novel is the hopelessness of war. War is a problem faced by man all over the globe. It was written after the First World War but it is still relevant to modern readers because we are on the brink of the Third World War. In addition, it also focuses on the doomed love of the two central characters of the novel. In order to delineate the growth of love amidst sanguinary war, Hemingway populates his novel with the following characters. Before we further talk about the story of the novel let us discuss the important characters of the novel. The Characters of the Novel

Frederic Henry is the protagonist of the novel. Therefore, he is the most important character of the novel. Most of the characters in the story are described in relation to Henry. For instance, there is Rinaldi who is an Italian surgeon. His relation with Henry is that he is a roommate to Henry. Then, there are subordinates of Henry. Aymo, Bonello and Piani are drivers under Henrys command. Passini is another driver under Henrys command. He is killed by a mortar. Then there is a priest in Henrys unit who offers spiritual advice to Henry. Then, there is character of Major who is the commanding officer in Henrys medical unit. Catherine Barkley is a British nurse. She is nurse who is conscious of her duties as a nurse. Helen Ferguson is Catherines colleague. Thus, most of the characters of the novel come from Henrys unit. The Story of the Novel The novel spans over five books. It highlights the tragic love story about an American ambulance lieutenant and an English nurse. The story delineates the war experiences of Frederic Henry on the Italian front during the First World War. Frederic Henry, a volunteer American ambulance lieutenant, is narrator of the story. He himself is a character in the story. In the story, he is a manly man who likes women and drink. He is a brave person who gives his youth and health to war. When the story begins Rinaldi, an Italian physician introduces Henry to Catherine Barkley, an English Voluntary Aid Detachment Nurse. She is a perfect woman. She is originally from Scotland. She has lost her fianc who got killed in the Battle of the Somme. Catherine and Henry fall in love. When Henry gets wounded by a mortar shell and is brought to a hospital in Milan, Catherine manages to strike a balance between her duties as a nurse and her passion and love for Henry. They begin to spend time together. He passionately loves Catherine and she gets pregnant during his stay at the hospital. Helen Ferguson does not like Henry. She does not like the relationship between Henry and Catherine. When Henry returns to war, he kills a sergeant

for insubordination. Here the story takes a new turn. He is arrested on the grounds of treachery. Fearing the execution by the interrogators, he escapes and flees to Switzerland with Catherine and bids farewell to arms of war. Away from the war, they begin to live a quiet life in the mountains of Switzerland. But they can escape from the war but they cannot escape the trials of life. Their conjugal happiness does not last long. Their peaceful life in the beautiful lush green mountains gets shattered when Catherine gets into labor. She stoically undergoes the ordeals of childbirth. She dies after giving birth to a dead child. The novel ends with Henry left alone. The Message of the Novel This is not a philosophical novel. It is not a reformative novel either. But, it is not without a message for the reader. It is the product of a soldier. It shows the down to the earth approach to life of its author. It is a novel which depicts realism. The story of the novel shows the development of the character of Frederic Henry. In the beginning he is a young man who does not really know why he joined the war. His wound brings him out of the action. He begins to see a newer side of life when he meets Catherine. She adds value to his empty life. Henrys day dreaming shows that he prefers love: I could go to Spain if there was no war. The sun was going down and the day was cooling off. After the supper I would go and see Catherine Barkely . I wish she were here now. I wished I were in Milan with her. . . we would drink the Capri and the door locked and it hot and only a sheet and the whole night and we would both love each other all night in the hot night in Milan (Hemingway , 1997: 40).

These lines show how much passionately Henry loves Catherine. He wishes that he could bid farewell to the arms of the war and go to Spain to live peacefully. It is this hope in love that helps him escape his own execution by the police. His love for Catherine comes to the fore again when he is rowing to Switzerland. He During the journey, he takes care that she remains comfortable .

When Catherine passes away leaving him alone in Switzerland, he comes to know that despite all the vicissitudes of life, one has to continue to live. In his life Henry gains Catherines love. She is his life. But, when Catherine dies, he does not go mad. At the end of the novels, Henry develops a stoic-like attitude to pain in life. This novel appears to end with an eternal message of patience. We have no way but to be patient despite all the sorrows and sacrifices that we have to make at different phases of life. This is the Whole Truth of life and this is what the title of the story appears to point to. Significance of the Title of the Novel One way of interpreting a piece of literature or a novel is to tally the content of the novel with its title. Critics have differed over the significance of the title of the novel. This story bids farewell to what. Does it bid farewell to war? Does it bid farewell to love? What is the meaning of arms: arms of Catherine or arms used in war? Tyler (2001) explains that Hemingway took the novels title from a sixteenth-century poem by George Peele (59). Meshram (2002) explains that the title of the novel points not to the war-arms but to the loss of love-arms that Henry suffered. The

novel finally suggests that one cannot escape the obligations created out, by his own actions; signing a separate peace will not work and one cannot say farewell to arms. One has to live loving people; learn to live with life and learn to tolerate it (110). Actually, as already explained, there has been much discussion on the significance of the title of the novel. But, the interpretations of most of the critics seem argue that the title of the novel seems to have stoic meanings and connotations. Shams (2002) explains that at a surface level the title seems to have to two senses: a farewell to the arms of war and a farewell to the arms of Catherine. But he further explains that the truth is that the title of A Farewell to Arms is a masterstroke of irony. He points out that it carries the suggestion that it is difficult for man to have separate peace with life, a kind of peace that is supposed to result from escape and that man has to learn to live with life and endure it. It is in this sense that we have to appreciate the suggestiveness of the title of A Farewell to Arms (43). At the end of the day, we are left with no definite answer regarding the title of the novel. If we focus on the word farewell, we may argue that this word farewell shows conscious and willing act of saying good-bye to somebody and something. Does he bid farewell to the arms of Catherine willingly and out of his own choice. Catherines death is a death like the death of so many other people who die without their own will. Human have no choice with regard to death. Henry loves Catherine but he does not love war.He never says farewell to her arms. Shakespeare says in one of his plays that loves logic is without logic. Death separates lovers only in literal sense. Figuratively, lovers continue to love each other even if one of them passes away. Thus, Henry says good bye to the arms of war and welcomes a world of love. Love teaches him how to patient even in case of the heaviest loss. It is a tragedy in its own way. The Novel as a Tragedy

As already mentioned, the novel depicts realism and the Whole Truth. This depiction of the Whole Truth of life gives a unique touch to the novel. The novel is a tragedy. But it is not a pure tragedy. Dahiya (1992) observes that even though A Farewell to Arms is modeled upon the structure of a tragedy, it is not a pure tragedy. Dahiya further explains that in order that the Whole Truth may be accommodated along with the tragedy of Henry and Catherine Hemingway goes beyond tragedy and makes the plot structure of his novel a more flexible instrument than is that of pure tragedy(49). Hemingway does not confine his book to the precincts of tragedy. Since he shows real life, he must follow the universal patterns and semiotic text of life and not the dictates of the great tragedians. We have looked at various aspects of the novel. We have looked at its characters, story and the message. All these aspects of the novel are couched in the language of the novel. Let us have a look at its language. The Stylistic Features of the Novel Great masterpieces of art and literature set their own trends. A farewell to Arms set new trends with regard to language of fiction. Niazi & Gautam (2010) argue that Ernest Hemingways A Farewell to Arms is a novel that is replete with stylistic features. The lexis and syntactic structures and the way in which the tone of the events takes place lend itself to stylistic interpretation (17). When we explore the stylistic aspects of the novel , we come to k now that Hemingway writes in a different style. He writes in a clear style. Walker (2009) argues that he stripped bare the American style of the early 20the century , favoring rougher , blunter Germanic and Anglo-Saxon words to smoother , longer Latinate words. He further points out that his writing is tightly controlled. This simple and clear style was in accordance with his own personality. The novel too is written in characteristic simple and frank prose style of

Hemingway. Early critics of the novel stressed its pragmatic picture of war. Critics have been squeamish about the frank language regarding sexual descriptions. There was a time when it was banned in Boston for this reason. However, later critics appreciated its realistic writing, symbolism, irony and narrative structure. The very first page of the novel starts with imagery: In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels. Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the trees too were dusty and the leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and the leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and after-ward the road bare and the white except for the leaves (9). It is a simple language that draws picture of war, landscape and love. In fact, we may begin to understand the importance of vulgar language in the story if we see the overall scheme of things in the story. Rao (2007) observes that being a realistic writer, he did not want to romanticize the rougher aspects of life. Since the subject included army life, his descriptions and dialogues were couched sometimes in vulgar but realistic language, the way people really speak (p.143). He can make his character utter the words the way in which they would not in their daily life. Thus, this style reflects the theme of the novel as Walker explains that in a Farewell to Arms , the style fits the theme: that life after war is a dour, dark , difficult struggle (13). But the stylistic beauty of Hemingways writing does not stop here. There is another aspect to it. Berridge (1984) explains that Hemingways style varies from character to character and person to person in the

novel. He argues that Hemingways style changes too when it reflects his characters changing states of mind . Writing from Frederic Henrys point of view, he sometime uses a modified stream of consciousness technique , a method for spilling out on paper the inner thoughts of a character (20).Therefore , the occasional vulgar language in the novel brings it closer to life.

Feminists Criticism In the early 1970s, feminist critics denigrated the male bias in the novel. They objected to Hemingways biased treatment of the character of Catherine. According to these critics Catherine has been shown as a projection of male needs. Talking about these days, Rao (2007) argues that in the early days of feminist movement of the 1970s, Hemingway seemed to many feminist critics as the macho-male whose women , in life as well as in writing , were either housekeepers, cooks and button-sewers, or sexual objects, but never thinking and feeling individuals in their own right(145). Feminists have their own way of looking at things. Hemingway was out there to portray life. He did not rigidly confine his novels to the specifications of tragedy and similarly he did not write his novel with a view to comply with feminist point of view. In real life, there are submissive women and there are aggressive women. Catherine is not completely submissive. In chapter 5, she slaps Henry. This shows that she is not completely submissive. She comforts Henry even when she is dying. Her death shows that she is a brave woman. Moreover, the novel was written long before the feminist movement gained momentum. Western society of 1929 may have been different from the Western society of 1970s when feminist movement gained momentum. Universal writers and poets rise above timely movements and focus on eternal themes. This is what Hemingway appears to have done in A Farewell to Arms.

Conclusion To conclude we can say that A Farewell to Arms is a great statement about the horrors of war. It is a tale of human endurance and fortitude. It depicts the development of the protagonist. A man without a clear vision comes to have a vision of love in life and at the end of the novel develops stoical attitude to life. After undergoing all the hardships, wartime problems and deaths of loved ones, he comes to appreciate every moment of life. Since it deals with universal themes of love and war, it appears to be as relevant today as it was after the First World War. Though it is the bleakest of all Hemingways novels, it does not end with a pessimistic message. It does not show that the world is going to the dogs. It shows the stoic heroism of Henry and Catherine. Thus the book instructs and entertains us. Through the character of Henry, Hemingway shares his own understanding of life and we begin to see that we must not take life granted. We should appreciate all its moments of sorrow and happiness. Despite all the criticism of feminists and moralists, the book continues to be a great book of literature enjoyed and appreciated by readers of English and American literature all over the world.

Works Cited

Berridge, H R. Ernest Hemingway's a Farewell to Arms. Woodbury, N.Y: Barron's, 1984. Print. Dahiya, Bhim S. Hemingway's a Farewell to Arms: A Critical Study. Delhi: Academic Foundation, 1992. Print. Hemingway, E. A Farewell to Arms. New York: Scribner.1997.Print.


Meshram, N G. The Fiction of Ernest Hemingway. New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers and Distributors, 2002. Print. Niazi,N. & Gautam,R. . How to study literature: stylistic and pragmatic approaches . New Delhi: PHI Learning Prvate Ltd, 2010.Print. Rama, Rao P. G. Ernest Hemingway's a Farewell to Arms. New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers & Distributors, 2007. Print. Shams, Ishteyaque. The Novels of Ernest Hemingway: A Critical Study. New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers and Distributors, 2002. Print. Tyler, Lisa. Student Companion to Ernest Hemingway. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 2001. Internet resource. Walker, Ross. Ernest Hemingway's a Farewell to Arms: Insight Text Guide. Elsternwick, Vic: Insight Publications, 2009. Print