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A Farewell to Arms


Critics usually describe Hemingway's style as simple, spare, 
and journalistic. These are all good words; they all apply. 
Perhaps because of his training as a newspaperman, Hemingway 
is a master of the declarative, subject-verb-object 
sentence. His writing has been likened to a boxer's 
punches--combinations of lefts and rights coming at us 
without pause. Take the following passage:

We were all cooked. The thing was not to recognize it. The 
last country to realize they were cooked would win the war. 
We had another drink. Was I on somebody's staff? No. He was. 
It was all balls.

The style gains power because it is so full of sensory 

There was an inn in the trees at the Bains de l'Allaiz where 
the woodcutters stopped to drink, and we sat inside warmed 
by the stove and drank hot red wine with spices and lemon in 
it. They called it gluhwein and it was a good thing to warm 
you and to celebrate with. The inn was dark and smoky inside 
and afterward when you went out the cold air came sharply 
into your lungs and numbed the edge of your nose as you 

The simplicity and the sensory richness flow directly from 
Hemingway's and his characters'--beliefs. The punchy, vivid 
language has the immediacy of a news bulletin: these are 
facts, Hemingway is telling us, and they can't be ignored. 
And just as Frederic Henry comes to distrust abstractions 
like "patriotism," so does Hemingway distrust them. Instead 
he seeks the concrete, the tangible: "hot red wine with 
spices, cold air that numbs your nose." A simple "good" 
becomes higher praise than another writer's string of 
decorative adjectives.

Though Hemingway is best known for the tough simplicity of 
style seen in the first passage cited above, if we take a 
close look at A Farewell to Arms, we will often find another 
Hemingway at work--a writer who is aiming for certain 
complex effects, who is experimenting with language, and who 
is often self-consciously manipulating words. Some sentences 
are clause-filled and eighty or more words long. Take for 
example the description in Chapter 1 that begins, "There 
were mists over the river and clouds on the mountain"; it 
paints an entire dreary wartime autumn and foreshadows the 
deaths not only of many of the soldiers but of Catherine.
Hemingway's style changes, too, when it reflects his 
characters' changing states of mind. Writing from Frederic 
Henry's point of view, he sometimes uses a modified 
stream-of-consciousness technique, a method for spilling out 
on paper the inner thoughts of a character. Usually Henry's 
thoughts are choppy, staccato, but when he becomes drunk the 
language does too, as in the passage in Chapter 3:

I had gone to no such place but to the smoke of cafes and 
nights when the room whirled and you needed to look at the 
wall to make it stop, nights in bed, drunk, when you knew 
that that was all there was, and the strange excitement of 
waking and not knowing who it was with you, and the world 
all unreal in the dark and so exciting that you must resume 
again unknowing and not caring in the night, sure that this 
was all and all and all and not caring.

The rhythm, the repetition, have us reeling with Henry.
Thus, Hemingway's prose is in fact an instrument finely 
tuned to reflect his characters and their world. As we read 
A Farewell to Arms, we must try to understand the thoughts 
and feelings Hemingway seeks to inspire in us by the way he 
uses language.


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