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A Farewell to Arms

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A Farewell to Arms

A Farewell to Arms is the third novel written by Ernest Hemingway and published in 1929. It tells the story of Lt Frederic Henry and his love affair with Catherine during World War One in Italy. Thought to be largely autobiographical, the story explores the disillusionment felt by members of the 'lost generation'. A bestseller at the time, the book caused controversy and was banned in Boston for its bad language and depictions of premarital sex.

The 'lost generation' were the men and women who entered into adulthood during World War One. The 'lost' refers to the disillusionment felt by the generation in the aftermath of the war.

A Farewell to Arms: Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Miller Hemingway was born on 21st July 1899 in Illinois, USA. Hemingway was an American author awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954. Ernest Hemingway was known for tackling masculine themes in his writing and for his adventurous lifestyle. His sparse prose influenced English and American literature in the 20th century.

Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, Hemingway chose not to go to college but instead went to Kansas City to become a journalist. During World War One, Ernest Hemingway was repeatedly rejected for military service due to an issue with his eye. He did become an ambulance driver for the American Red Cross, where he served in Italy and was severely wounded, drawing parallels with his novel A Farewell to Arms.


A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway statue, StudySmarterStatue of Ernest Hemingway in Cuba, where the author spent most of his later life. Pixabay.

After the war, Ernest Hemingway became a foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star newspaper and moved to Paris, France. In France, Hemingway met writers such as F Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein, who convinced him to pursue his fiction writing further. His first book published in the US was In Our Time (1924) and Hemingway became renowned for his short story writing.

Whilst Hemingway found acclaim and popularity for his writing, he still battled anxiety and depression. On 2nd July 1961, Ernest Hemingway took his own life in Idaho, USA.

A Farewell to Arms: plot summary

Frederic Henry is an American Lieutenant driving ambulances in Italy during World War One. He meets nurse Catherine Barkley, who is mourning the loss of her fiance. The pair take a liking to each other and become flirtatious, almost making a game of their courting. Frederic soon has to return to the front where he is seriously wounded by a trench mortar. Frederic is then sent to a hospital in Milan to recover.

A Farewell to Arms, World War One Nurse, StudySmarter World War One is a prevalent theme in this novel. Pixabay.

By chance, Catherine Barkley had been transferred to the same Milan hospital that Frederic is recovering in. Throughout his rehabilitation, their relationship deepens. Frederic confesses his love for Catherine but she does not take him seriously. The pair continue to court and soon Catherine becomes pregnant.

Having almost recovered Frederic is allowed to take leave for two weeks before returning to the front line. Before he can take his leave, Frederic is accused by the hospital superintendent of intentionally making his condition worse. Frederic is then sent back to the frontline.

A Farewell to Arms, Trench Warfare, StudySmarterTrench warfare on the frontline in World War One. Pixabay.

Returning to the frontline, Frederic finds that morale among the soldiers is low. The battle of Caporetto goes terribly for the Italian army and they are forced to retreat. The retreat turned out to be equally disastrous, and after being refused help escaping, Frederic shoots an engineer. After this incident Frederic decides to desert the army, narrowly escaping execution by the military police. He looks for Catherine and finds her in a town called Stresa. They decide to flee to Switzerland.

Upon crossing the border into Switzerland, the pair are soon arrested by the border police. They manage to convince the border police that they are students and make their way to the town of Montreux. They are happy for a few short months before Catherine goes into labour, which turns out to be long and arduous. Their son is stillborn and, not long after, Catherine dies with Frederic by her side. Frederic finds it hard to say goodbye to Catherine and walks to their hotel, alone in the rain.

A Farewell to Arms: analysis

Here we will look further into the language used and themes of A Farewell to Arms.

Title

The title could be taken from a 16th Century lyric poem by George Peele, 'A farewell to arms to Queen Elizabeth' (1590). The poem is about a knight who feels too old for soldiering. It has similar themes to the novel, such as war and masculinity. However, it is not known if Ernest Hemingway was aware of the poem when writing the novel. We can take the title as a reference to no longer having a use for weaponry, 'arms' being a term often used for weapons.

Language and writing style

A Farewell to Arms is written in a simplistic style, avoiding the use of unnecessary adjectives. Sparse prose is used to depict violent scenes so as not to romanticise the harsh reality of war. Ernest Hemingway makes heavy use of the word 'and' to connect simple, direct clauses. This was an effort used by the author to give his audience a sense of rapid action, replicating the feel of a battle.

Hemingway uses realistic dialogue for his soldiers, which was often considered bad or 'unsavoury'. The soldiers frequently swear and some deaths are quite graphically detailed. This caused the novel to be heavily censored by its editor.

Themes

The concurring themes of war and love are in conflict in the novel, war separates loved ones and kills lovers. Love can become a refuge from the horror of war.

War

The characters in A Farewell to Arms reflect those of their generation. The lost generation were ambivalent or angry about the war that surrounded them. They were angered by the destruction, and the lives destroyed. They were ambivalent as to whether any good will come of it. The characters who support the war were looked down upon. Ettore and Gino, who support the war, are seen as boastful or unintelligent.

The novel expresses the senseless violence of war. As the destruction of the battle of Caporetto increases, the soldiers themselves become more anxious and irrational. The soldiers begin to forget their duty. Soldiers turn on their officers and fight each other. In one scene, attempting to retreat, an engineer refuses to help Frederic with his vehicle. Desperate to get away while helping the young ladies with him, Frederic shoots the engineer.

The murder of a fellow soldier is not only accepted but endorsed, with the doctor shooting him in the head to ensure his death. This killing is a product of a violent and chaotic war, a reflection of a world that had become chaotic and violent itself.

Love

Catherine, still mourning the loss of her fiance, starts her flirtations with Frederic in order to get over her loss, or think less about it. Frederic uses their interactions as a means to distract himself from the war. The couple finds refuge from their problems in each other.

As their relationship intensifies, Frederic feels his love for Catherine is stronger, more real than his sense of honour and as a result, he deserts the army. They plan for an idyllic life together but war is a constant obstacle, Frederic is nearly executed and the two need to sneak out of the country in darkness. Once Frederic and Catherine find the peaceful life they crave it soon makes way for tragedy. In the novel, love is always depicted as fleeting.

A Farewell to Arms: quotes

Let's look at some key quotes from the novel!

When you love you wish to do things for. You wish to sacrifice for. You wish to serve."

This quote expresses the dual themes of love and war, the character of the priest compares love to something that you sacrifice for or serve. These terms are more familiarly used in the army, 'to serve one's country or to sacrifice oneself for the greater good. The priest later tells Frederic that he must find true love to find happiness.

I would like to have had the uniform off although I did not care much about the outward forms. . . I was through. I wished them all the luck."

This is the defining moment when Lt Frederic Henry decides that he no longer cares for the war or soldiering, his love for Catherine being greater. When Frederic speaks of the uniform he is referring to the army in general. He no longer cares for the army it was "not his show anymore" the character later says. It could be said that this is the point where Frederic bids farewell to arms'.

All thinking men are atheists.”

Here, the Major expresses a feeling of negativity towards religion, going as far as to suggest that those who do believe in religion would not be considered 'a thinking man'. This reflects the abandonment and disillusion caused by the war on 'the lost generation'.

A Farewell to Arms - Key takeaways

  • A farewell to Arms is a novel published in 1929 by Ernest Hemingway.
  • It is the story of a love affair between Frederic Henry and Catherine Barkley during World War One.
  • The two major themes of A Farewell to Arms are love and war.
  • A Farewell to Arms was a best seller, selling 100,000 copies in its first year.
  • The novel A Farewell to Arms is written in simplistic sparse prose.

Frequently Asked Questions about A Farewell to Arms

The meaning of a farewell to arms is saying goodbye to weapons, also known as 'arms'.

The main themes of A farewell to Arms are love and war.

A Farewell to Arms was written and published in 1929

The title A Farewell to Arms is a reference to the protagonist no longer having a use for weaponry.

The message of A Farewell to Arms is that life is short and all things come to an end, that's why one should enjoy each living moment.

Final A Farewell to Arms Quiz

Question

What is the meaning of 'a farewell to arms'?

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Answer

The meaning of farewell to arms is saying goodbye to weapons, also known as 'arms'.

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Question

What are the main themes of A Farewell to Arms?

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Answer

The main themes of A farewell to Arms are love and war.

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Question

When was A Farewell to Arms written?

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Answer

A Farewell to Arms was written and published in 1929

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Question

What is the significance of the title of the novel A Farewell to Arms?

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Answer

The title A Farewell to Arms is a reference to the protagonist no longer having a use for weaponry.

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Question

Who is the author of A Farewell to Arms?

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Answer

The author of A Farewell to Arms is Ernest Hemingway

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Question

Who are the two protagonists of A Farewell to Arms?

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Answer

The two protagonists of A Farewell to Arms are Catherine Barkley and Frederic Henry


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Question

The character's thoughts reflect those of which generation?

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Answer

The character's thoughts reflect those of the 'lost generation'.

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Question

Who is Catherine Barkley?

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Answer

Catherine Barkley is an English nurse who falls in love with Frederic Henry

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Who is Frederic Henry?

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Answer

Frederic Henry is an American Lieutenant who drove ambulances.

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When is A Farewell to Arms set?

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Answer

A Farewell to Arms is set during World War One

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Question

Where was A Farewell to Arms set?

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Answer

A Farewell to Arms is largely set in Italy, with the novel climaxing in Switzerland.

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