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Analysis of Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms. Literary Essay Example.

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Wesleyan University
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A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway is a novel based on a tragic love story between an American ambulance driver Fredrick Henry who serves in the army of Italy and Catherine Barkley, an English nurse. The story speaks about their love affair which later on grew to such excess that it became compelling in its truest sense. At the battlefield, Henry is wounded badly on his knee. He is taken for an operation at a hospital in Milan. On the other hand, later on, Catherine is transferred to the same hospital Henry is in and in turn helped him recover from the surgery. After a while, when Henry recuperated from the surgery, Catherine reveals to him that she is pregnant. Both are happy with the outcome and pledge to see each other again when Henry returns from the front.

The purpose of rain in the novel is a symbol of unavoidable circumstances relating to unhappiness in life. When Catherine and Henry lie in bed, storms can be heard from outside as rain falls on the roof. Catherine is terrified and says to Henry that such a scenario might have the likelihood of ruining things for lovers. This is showed later on after Catherines death when Henry walks toward home when it is raining. Here, Catherines anxiety toward the rain showed one of the main purposes of the novel, in that, nothing is everlasting; be it love or anything else that the world offers (Bauman 4).

War can be said to be one of the main themes in the novel. The title itself A Farewell to Arms, represents a cruel reality of how war can affect a situation. Conflicts usually result in brutality and violence. It relates to the ignorance posed by lack of ideal sense the world can offer such that the outcome is inevitable (Wilmer 7). Both oddness and moral import can be questioned when Henry shoots the Engineer because of refusing to help him when the car was stuck in the mud. In spite of this, the novel does not acknowledge condemnation of the war; rather it states that the murder of the Engineer was as a result of the inevitability of an unavoidable outcome. Nevertheless, making it a justifiable by-product of the tension that was brought by the violence in the war. This suggests that war does not guarantee protection or preservation of true love, rather a dark and unforgiving world full of murder.

The narrative also relates to the relationship between love and pain as another main theme. This can be seen as Catherine tells Henry about the death of her Fiance with grief but soon changes to a seduction game. Similarly, Henry distances himself from the conversation about the war. Both are attempting to find comfort amongst themselves to temporarily heal the things that are affecting them negatively. Their love becomes even more powerful giving them enough courage to aim for a sustainable life they desired. This text approves that no matter how genuine something may be; it still does not guarantee its permanency.

Characters usually have different personalities according to the role they play. There are three main characters involved in the story. Each is having their unique role but at the same time are mutually beneficial to each other. Fredrick Henry is portrayed as a man who is loyal to his services. He is dedicated to his duties and does not wish for any appraisal as he considers his services obligatory. When Henry met Catherine, his reaction was astounding. Despite his vulnerability, Henry still could not resist showing feelings for Catherine. He describes Catherine with such a genuine approach especially about her hair and presence in bed.

Catherine Barkley is seen as a woman who is both loving and dedicated. Although she was perfectly aware that at first her love with Henry was only a mere seduction game, for instance, at times she would not allow Henry to step of the boundary. Catherine was fearfully resistant at first for she had doubts occasionally. She admits to Henry about her fear of bearing a child because according to her she has never loved anyone before. Therefore, predicting that an unfortunate thing is going to happen to them. Despite all this, their love still grew strong. Rinaldi, a friend of Henry, is embodied as an unbelievable womanizer. Unlike Henry, he is rarely affected by the emotional entanglement that loving a woman entails. However, later on, he suffers from syphilis. The author depicts his situation as rather not an unpleasant end but rather detaches the likelihood of the character.

Every character in the novel has their way of seeking solace towards their private suffering. This can be seen when Catherine plays a seduction game with Henry to distract herself from mourning the loss of her fiance. Also, in regulating the pain of the war, the Priest relies heavily on his faith in God. On the contrary, nearly everyone relies on the consumption of alcohol to ease the effects of the war.

Irony brings out the stark contrast in a sentence to create a literal meaning being addressed. The importance of irony in literature is based on the context and situation in which the sentence is placed (Irony Literary Devices). It is ironical that Henry bids farewell to the arms for the sake of seeking prosperity in his relationship with Catherine. Rather, he also suffers the same fate when Catherine dies of excessive bleeding during the birth of their child. The author also is being ironical when he states that, only seven thousand men, had demised in the army before winter (Hemmingway 4). This withdraws the attention of the characters for he does not consider a more significant approach towards them.

Realism can be described as a form of literary technique. Its representation is based on a more faithful approach towards reality. To describe the function of a certain grammatical mood is thus the same as defining that mood (Millikan and Ruth Garrett 16). In the analysis of the novel, the first thing that is noticed is how the author discourses realism. Moreover, the use of romanticism is one of the main concepts regarding realism in such a way that it carries an extensive approach towards thinking about reality. Abrams stated in his theory in his A Glossary of Literary Terms that

It is more useful to identify realism regarding the effect of the reader: realistic fiction is written to give the effect that it represents life and the social world as it seems to the common reader, evoking the sense that its characters might in fact exist and that such thing might well happen (Abrams 260).

A Farewell to Arms is almost identical to the story of the authors real life. The love affair between Henry and Catherine can relate to Hemmingway(Author) who meets Agnes von Kurowsky in Milan hospital and immediately develops a deep connection. In spite of the realistic fiction that the story entails, it can well relate the authors real life.

The setting is usually considered as an important aspect of a novel. It is characterized by the place and time in which the story presents itself. Place, in a novel, determines the kind of mood or atmosphere the story projects. On the other hand, time itself affects the kind of choices the characters in the novel make and their consequences (Perrine et al. 9). In the novel, Italy is depicted as a fragile state. The state of fragility is a new concept but it has come to establish itself in the modern world in significant ways (Carment et al 4). During the war, it reflects on the unstable lives of the characters. It points out that safe places such as the bedroom or hospitals cannot guarantee safety as this were also the places where people grieved the most. The frailty of the setting can also be witnessed when Henry and Catherine arrive in Switzerland. Everything takes a terrible sudden shift when it suddenly rains. This reflects on the doubts that most of the people came upon as it affected them both during and after the war.

Allegory is defined as the discrepancy of characters regarding their figure of speech. It is usually accompanied by abstract ideas and principles (Allegory Examples and Definition of Allegory). Allegory can be identified with prose or poetry to tell a narrative. It established in what may be called a moral lesson. Allegory is associated with the use of symbols, but in its perspective, it defers from symbolism in such a way that characters and specific events are involved. In the novel, two types of papers are constantly seen, one being identification documents and the other newspapers that report on the state of the war. Identification documents indicated the state in which the people were. Fredric acts as a symbol of the authors writing process when reading the newspapers.

The novel uses various literary forms such as symbolism, themes, characterization, irony, realism, setting and allegory to make it interesting for the reader. Love is depicted as the main source of the story as it is shown when Henry meets Catherine and falls in love with her. At the same time, it represents the impermanence of things no matter how genuine it may be. This is shown when eventually Catherine later dies of hemorrhage after giving birth to a stillborn. The story speaks of war as an unforgiving world of violence which does not guarantee safety of a loved one. It ends in the most saddest way possible as Henry is left in loneliness, merely surviving.


Works Cited

"Allegory - Examples, and Definition of Allegory." Literary Devices, 2017,

Bauman, Zygmunt. Liquid love: On the frailty of human bonds. John Wiley & Sons, 2013.

Carment, David, Stewart Prest, and Yiagadeesen Samy. Security, development and the fragile state: Bridging the gap between theory and policy. Routledge, 2009.

Hemingway, Ernest. A farewell to arms: The Hemingway library edition. Simon and Schuster, 2012.

"Irony | Literary Devices." Literary-Devices.Com, 2017,

Millikan, Ruth Garrett. Language thought, and other biological categories: New foundations for realism. MIT Press, 1984.

Perrine, Laurence, and Thomas R. Arp. Literature: structure, sound, and sense. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1988.

Wilmer, Franke. The social construction of man, the state, and war: Identity, conflict, and violence in former Yugoslavia. Psychology Press, 2002.


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