A farewell to arms
A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway, is a typical love story. A
Romeo and his Juliet placed against the odds. In this novel, Romeo is
Frederick Henry and Juliet is Catherine Barkley. Their love affair
must survive the obstacles of World War I. The background of war-torn
Italy adds to the tragedy of the love story. The war affects the
emotions and values of each character. The love between Catherine and
Frederick must outlast long separations, life-threatening war-time
situations, and the uncertainty of each other’s whereabouts or
condition. This novel is a beautiful love story of two people who need
each other in a period of upheaval.
Frederick Henry is an American who serves as a lieutenant in the
Italian army to a group of ambulance drivers. Hemingway portrays
Frederick as a lost man searching for order and value in his life.
Frederick disagrees with the war he is fighting. It is too chaotic and
immoral for him to rationalize its cause. He fights anyway, because
the army puts some form of discipline in his life. At the start of the
novel, Frederick drinks and travels from one house of prostitution to
another and yet he is discontent because his life is very unsettled.
He befriends a priest because he admires the fact that the priest
lives his life by a set of values that give him an orderly lifestyle.
Further into the novel, Frederick becomes involved with Catherine
Barkley. He slowly falls in love with her and, in his love for
her, he finds commitment. Their relationship brings some order and
value to his life. Compared to this new form of order in his life,
Frederick sees the losing Italian army as total chaos and disorder
where he had previously seen discipline and control. He can no longer
remain a part of something that is so disorderly and so, he deserts
the Italian army. Frederick’s desertion from the Italian army is the
turning point of the novel. This is the significance of the title, A
Farewell to Arms. When Frederick puts aside his involvement in the
war, he realizes that Catherine is the order and value in his life and
that he does not need anything else to give meaning to his life.
At the conclusion of this novel, Frederick realizes that he cannot
base his life on another person or thing because, ultimately, they
will leave or disappoint him. He realizes that the order and values
necessary to face the world must come from within himself.
Catherine Barkley is an English volunteer nurse who serves in Italy.
She is considered very experienced when it comes to love and loss
since she has already been confronted with the death of a loved one
when her fiance was killed earlier in the war. The reader is not as
well acquainted with Catherine’s inner thoughts and feelings as we are
with those of Frederick. The story is told through Frederick’s eyes
and the reader only meets Catherine through the dialogue between her
and Frederick or through his personal interpretations of her actions.
Catherine already possesses the knowledge that her own life cannot be
dependent on another. She learned this lesson through the death of her
fiance. Her love for Frederick is what her life revolves around, yet
she knows not to rely on him to be the order in her life. Had she been
dependent on Frederick for the order in her life, she would not have
been able to allow him to participate in the war for fear of losing
The theme that Hemingway emphasizes throughout the novel is the search
for order in a chaotic world. Hemingway conveys this through
Frederick’s own personal search during the chaos of World War I.
Catherine has found strength within herself to lead her through life.
This is what Frederick must come to realize. Through his involvement
with Catherine, Frederick slowly finds his own inner strength.
Frederick’s affair with Catherine prompts him to leave his wild life
of prostitutes and drink. He becomes aware of an element of stability
in their affair and realizes that the war that he was involved in was
too chaotic, so he deserts the army. He and Catherine make a life for
themselves totally isolated from everything and everyone else.
Frederick believes that his life is now completely in order and that
his values are in perspective, yet he still seems discontented. He
continuously has to convince himself that he has “a fine life.” He has
not yet reached Catherine’s level that enables her to be perfectly
happy in their love and yet not dependent on it for all comfort and
support. Frederick still has to find that within himself.
Until the conclusion of the novel, Frederick still relies on Catherine
as the source of order in his life. With the end of their affair
when Catherine dies giving birth to their stillborn love-child,
Frederick realizes that he cannot depend on any one person, such
as Catherine, or any thing, such as religion, war, or frivolity, for
order and discipline. Hemingway describes Frederick’s enlightenment
best in the final paragraph of the novel when Frederick sees
Catherine’s corpse for the first and last time. Frederick’s reaction
was that “it was like saying good-by to a statue.” Frederick realizes
that Catherine was only a symbol of the order and strength in his
life. Strength to face life must come from within him and only he will
be able to get himself through his own life. He will have to learn to
depend on himself. Frederick realizes this and is able to get on with
his life on his own. “After a while he went out and left the
hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain.” He did not mourn
or feel like his own life had ended with her death, rather he was able
to continue on with his newfound inner strength and face his world
This novel succeeds in getting Hemingway’s message across. Frederick’s
realization causes the reader to reflect on his/her own life and on
what institutions they depend on in their own lives. I enjoyed this
novel because I learned along with Frederick that I must face my life
on my own. The strength to face my problems cannot come from any other
source because no other source can ever be as permanent as the
strength that I can find within myself.
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