Love during War in Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms

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The hillsides of Italy grew forests of chestnuts and beyond the plains, streams ran through gardens and vineyards. The scene sounds blissful, but it was war. It was World War 1 and Lieutenant Frederic Henry, an American ambulance driver for the Italian army was in the midst of it. He traveled to the exotic country to study architecture, but for not much reason at all, joined Italian forces when the war began. In the disparity of circumstances, he lost sight of purpose and indulged in many bad pleasures to suffice, until he met a nurse, Miss Catherine Barkley, who desired true love rather than short-lived comfort. In A Farewell to Arms, the author, Ernest Hemingway, portrays the realism of progressive, passionate love during a time of war through structure and style, point of view, characterization, and thematic elements.

Through the author’s structure of the novel and style of writing the reader’s feelings are influenced. The entire novel starts with visual imagery as Frederic gives a description of his setting and continues to recall vivid images of his surroundings. From the time Frederic is driving ambulances in Italy to when he escapes to Switzerland he tells of the picturesque landscapes. The author also uses organic imagery, making the reader feel a certain way after experiencing things through Lieutenant Henry’s eyes.

This happens time and time again. In the midst of battle the reader shares the feelings of turmoil. When Catherine says home is where he is and Frederic says, “My life used to be full of everything…Now if you aren’t with me I haven’t a thing the the world,” the reader feels satisfied after uneasiness. When they escape together to Switzerland there is happiness at last and the mood temporarily changes. The reader feels a sense of relief after a manaughtny of hardship and chaos changes to having a “fine, lovely life”. When Frederic first loses the baby, then Catherine, the reader shares his emotions of distress.

The novel’s point of view as a first-person narrative affects the reader’s interpretation of the characters’ motives and feelings towards each other. At the beginning of the novel, the reader knows Lieutenant Henry’s pursuit of Miss Barkley is based solely on momentary lust and attraction, but the longer it goes on, the more the reader knows there are undeniably elements of true love. He goes from admitting to himself that he does not genuinely love her to saying, “I felt faint with loving her so much.” (Hemingway, p. 224)

Through Hemingway’s characterization of the lead characters in A Farewell to Arms, the reader is given a rich illustration of the reality of their personalities, showing their complexity and change over the novel’s course of events, giving their lives a sense of purpose. In examination of this, one sees how the protagonist and narrator of the novel, Frederic Henry, proves to be a round character.

Hemingway, being the outstanding writer he was, thoroughly developed him as the main character, creating him to be multi-faceted. The character’s complexity thickens when one takes into account his drastic change of heart. As the story advances, Fredric’s once thoughtless game of romance evolves into a full-fledged pursuit of Miss Catherine Barkley, making him additionally a dynamic character. In his conversation with Catherine he says , ‘What you tell me about in the nights. That is not love. That is only passion and lust. When you love you wish to do things for. You wish to sacrifice for. You wish to serve.’ (Hemingway, p. 62) This shows his growth in acknowledgment and discovery of genuine love.

Along with Frederic’s layered disposition and maturing feelings, his emotional state develops as he finds someone to live for. His lover, Catherine, tells him, “I can keep you safe. I know I can. But nobody can help themselves.” (Hemingway, p. 126) Amidst the literal circumstances of keeping him safe, she is also referencing his heart. Frederic knows Catherine will faithfully treasure him.


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Love during War in Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. (2021, May 17). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/love-during-war-in-ernest-hemingways-a-farewell-to-arms/

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