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Farewell to Arms

“Fern Hill” as a Nostalgic Panegyric to Youth →

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Lots of scientific research works cover preliminary investigation of famous Lost Generation writers. However, considering the novel “A Farewell to Arms” one could still see that the main attention is paid to the problems of a novel and the expressive means and stylistic devices used by Hemingway.

Indeed, the major themes of the 20th century literature were very tenuously connected with World War I. Thus, literary works of almost all Western European and American writers in the first half the 20th century depicted the war and its aftermath.

Ernest Hemingway, an outstanding American writer of the 20th century, says such words concerning a military theme:

"This is one of the most important issues and, moreover, the most difficult to give a truthful account of the incidents, and the writers who have not seen war, always envy veterans and try to convince themselves and others the war theme is insignificant or unnatural, whereas, in fact, they have missed a chance" (Oldsey, 1979).

It was World War I that shaped Hemingway as a writer. The leading line of his works is inextricably linked with anti-war themes. Hemingway considers a war being a tragedy. Dethroning the notion of patriotism, honor, duty, and other values, the writer has showed all the inhumane nature of war.

One of his novels is the novel "A Farewell to Arms." This novel is notable of its small size, it is still amazing how this work is full of content. The author puts in the  novel a set of problems and issues, such as an intellectual in the war, people's attitude to the war, religion and war, morality and war, the influence of propaganda on the public and others (Rovit et al., 1986).

In the novel "A Farewell to Arms" Hemingway gives a very broad generalization, shows how external historical events affect the lives of people. For him, as for many of the "Lost Generation", the war has become the personification of the evil in the world, the moment at which the history of the 20th century has really begun. Through the "arms" Hemingway shows how a strong character of the "Lost Generation" was formed.

The protagonist of the novel Frederic Henry is serving as a Lieutenant. The Tenente’s image is dynamic and the readers see him during the accumulation of his life and spiritual experience. And in the course of it, a radical change has come about in the ideological position of the character. Henry at the beginning and Henry at the end of the novel are two different people.

The character’s story is inextricably linked with the story of another character – Catherine Barkley and by means of it the novel "A Farewell to Arms" widely differs from those anti-war novels. Henry and Catherine Barkley’s story of love forms one of the plot lines of the novel. The second story line is those external events, which have been a fruitful cause for  the following dynamics in changing of the main hero’s characters.  These external events are represented by World War I. And that war turns to dust people’s dreams about welfare.

Furthermore, the theme of love goes through “the great and terrible topic of war”. Both themes keep blending and are closely interwoven with each other. It seems as the lyric line arises from the war and finds its significance as the story unfolds. Henry’s maturing decision to bid farewell to arms is getting stronger along with his growing feelings for Catherine Barkley. Military relationships and lyrical lines are traced even in the sequence of events. Meetings with Catherine always alternate with frontline episodes, and each episode with Catherine and Henry’s serious relationship has a simultaneous tense military episode.

Indeed, Hemingway creates a special mood again, changes the environment in which there are Frederick and Catherine. This time, he uses the ordinary phenomenon of nature―rain.Ordinary rain becomes a symbol―a symbol of bad weather, when a person feels so uncomfortable, cold, and dank. Because of the rain, the slush on the road hampers the priest's movement (in the second chapter of the book), its shape reminds us the very clay or dust of which we came and to which we all  will return: “She was crying. I comforted her and she stopped crying. But outside it kept on raining” (Hemingway, 1987). That is, the main reason that could cause something bad to happen has not been obviated. This obstacle is a “universal flood”, which in the form of rain claims its rights to people's lives (Lukacs, 1964).

Now, after all the mishaps are finally safe and embraced by his beloved, Frederick is mentally developing his outlook and comes to a conclusion  that there is the unalterable law, which predominates over human destinies. This young man, who has never been deep in thought, is obliged to sum up his life experience, and complain about the circumstances, which are showing that way: “If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry” (Hemingway, 1987).

Moreover, there comes a rainy night. Hemingway again needs this symbol of universal inclement weather to emphasize that danger was in store for the main characters, and after a moment's respite, they will be faced other severe trials. But if the last time the rain has just beaten against the window, now it intrudes into a cozy refuge, bringing cold and anxiety along: 

“That night there was a storm and I woke to hear the rain lashing the windowpanes. It was coming in the open window. Someone had knocked on the door. I went to the door very softly, not to disturb Catherine, and opened it. The barman stood there. He wore his overcoat and carried his wet hat.

"Can I speak to you, Tenente?"

"What's the matter?"

"It's a very serious matter."

I looked around. The room was dark. I saw the water on the floor from the window” (Hemingway, 1987).    

This puddle under the window is a symbol of a leak, water inrush and a hole in the tiny boat of love. Unfathomable reason and virtues that determine what are fated to people, have broken the front where two lovers tries to hold out against these forces.

But the idea of Hemingway is not to help the characters to go through the mill and leave them enjoying themselves lately. Yet this story is made up, the reality sometimes is able to propose the fishiest stories. Hemingway has been fully aware that the world is filled with the most absurd fears, tragedies, disasters, and diseases. The story of Catherine and Frederick has started during the war, which attaches great importance and tension to it. But the great hopes of lovers are destroyed by the vulnerable physiology of our body (Catherine has died after cesarean section) not war. This could happen even in times of peace. A trap to where people may get  could be different, like in the case of illness and (or) accidents, - because they are mortal:

“Poor, poor dear Cat. And this was the price you paid for sleeping together. This was the end of the trap. This was what people got for loving each other. Thank God for gas, anyway. What must it have been like before there were anaesthetics? Once it started, they were in the millrace. Catherine had a good time in the time of pregnancy. It wasn't bad. She was hardly ever sick. She was not awfully uncomfortable until toward the last. So now they got her in the end. You never got away with anything. Get away hell!” (Hemingway, 1987).

Hemingway believes that the search for intellectual values should be started during the trials and tribulations or at the time of collision of the cruelty of nature. Just facing something that thrills every particle of one’s frame, people realize their incredible fragile and that one mistake could cost them their lives. So, being horror-stricken at it, people think that their thoughts, feelings, moods, impressions, tenderness, love and happiness come to an end (Donaldson, 1977). It is no coincidence that the religious world suggests the opposite side: that there is more to it than that and this world is only a preparation, a prelude of the immortal soul. But a person does not understand this, because he has taken the print of the life itself and he is alarmed by the uncertainty.

Frederick is more inclined to believe that there is nothing after death. During his sleepless nights, he has known “nothing”. Death is the summit of nothing. It follows that whatever mode of behavior or personal faith you have taken it will serve  faithfully, and will never fail you even in the face of death:

“Poor little kid. I wished the hell I'd been choked like that. No I didn't. Still there would not be all this dying to go through. Now Catherine would die. That was what you did. You died. You did not know what it was about. You never had time to learn. They threw you in and told you the rules and the first time they caught you off base they killed you. Or they killed you gratuitously like Aymo. Or gave you the syphilis like Rinaldi. But they killed you in the end. You could count on that. Stay around and they would kill you” (Hemingway, 1987).

The character by self-discipline and understanding of his vulnerability tends to give any form of his shapelessness existence. He has found this form in soldier's training and faithful love.

The last page shows that Henry is alone again, he is on his own, but he has changed, gained in strength of the war and the shadow of love. He will never be the same, because the moment of simplicity of his thoughts and feelings has been lost forever. There are the codes of self-discipline and experience that develop Frederick’s outlook. This applies not only to his private tragedy, but also to life in general. Internal discipline and bitter experience can make much of life and restore order in a great deal of confusion of human existence (Delmore, 1950).

To sum up, Hemingway is not a genius, who has opened a new man, but at least some parts of human life become a reality, and it gives him an opportunity to have power over the intellects. The writer has opened the new reality of rambling and superficial human conversation that has deep implication. Also, Hemingway has drawn the attention to how people talk, lying in bed, and found that they are talking about everything. This conversation of lovers is the most powerful tool in the novel "A Farewell to Arms". Hemingway’s concept of love of a modern Western man stands beyond these conversations.

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