A Farewell To Arms By Ernest Hemingway


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 detail. 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 inhaled.
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


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