A Farewell To Arms by Ernest Hemingway


(Essay #3)
A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway, is a typical love
story. A Romeo and his Juliet placed against the odds. In
this novel, Romeo is Frederick Henry and Juliet is
Catherine Barkley. Their love affair must survive the
obstacles of World War I. The background of war-torn Italy
adds to the tragedy of the love story. The war affects the
emotions and values of each character. The love between
Catherine and Frederick must outlast long separations,
life-threatening war-time situations, and the uncertainty
of each other's whereabouts or condition. This novel is a
beautiful love story of two people who need each other in a
period of upheaval.
Frederick Henry is an American who serves as a lieutenant
in the Italian army to a group of ambulance drivers.
Hemingway portrays Frederick as a lost man searching for
order and value in his life. Frederick disagrees with the
war he is fighting. It is too chaotic and immoral for him
to rationalize its cause. He fights anyway, because the
army puts some form of discipline in his life. At the start
of the novel, Frederick drinks and travels from one house
of prostitution to another and yet he is discontent because
his life is very unsettled. He befriends a priest because
he admires the fact that the priest lives his life by a set
of values that give him an orderly lifestyle. 

Further into the novel, Frederick becomes involved with
Catherine Barkley. He slowly falls in love with her and, in
his love for her, he finds commitment. Their relationship
brings some order and value to his life. Compared to this
new form of order in his life, Frederick sees the losing
Italian army as total chaos and disorder where he had
previously seen discipline and control. He can no longer
remain a part of something that is so disorderly and so, he
deserts the Italian army. Frederick's desertion from the
Italian army is the turning point of the novel. This is the
significance of the title, A Farewell to Arms. When
Frederick puts aside his involvement in the war, he
realizes that Catherine is the order and value in his life
and that he does not need anything else to give meaning to
his life.
At the conclusion of this novel, Frederick realizes that he
cannot base his life on another person or thing because,
ultimately, they will leave or disappoint him. He realizes
that the order and values necessary to face the world must
come from within himself. 

Catherine Barkley is an English volunteer nurse who serves
in Italy. She is considered very experienced when it comes
to love and loss since she has already been confronted with
the death of a loved one when her fiance was killed earlier
in the war. The reader is not as well acquainted with
Catherine's inner thoughts and feelings as we are with
those of Frederick. The story is told through Frederick's
eyes and the reader only meets Catherine through the
dialogue between her and Frederick or through his personal
interpretations of her actions. Catherine already possesses
the knowledge that her own life cannot be dependent on
another. She learned this lesson through the death of her
fiance. Her love for Frederick is what her life revolves
around, yet she knows not to rely on him to be the order in
her life. Had she been dependent on Frederick for the order
in her life, she would not have been able to allow him to
participate in the war for fear of losing her own stability
with his death. 

The theme that Hemingway emphasizes throughout the novel is
the search for order in a chaotic world. Hemingway conveys
this through Frederick's own personal search during the
chaos of World War I. Catherine has found strength within
herself to lead her through life. This is what Frederick
must come to realize. Through his involvement with
Catherine, Frederick slowly finds his own inner strength.
Frederick's affair with Catherine prompts him to leave his
wild life of prostitutes and drink. He becomes aware of an
element of stability in their affair and realizes that the
war that he was involved in was too chaotic, so he deserts
the army. He and Catherine make a life for themselves
totally isolated from everything and everyone else.
Frederick believes that his life is now completely in order
and that his values are in perspective, yet he still seems
discontented. He continuously has to convince himself that
he has "a fine life." He has not yet reached Catherine's
level that enables her to be perfectly happy in their love
and yet not dependent on it for all comfort and support.
Frederick still has to find that within himself.
Until the conclusion of the novel, Frederick still relies
on Catherine as the source of order in his life. With the
end of their affair when Catherine dies giving birth to
their stillborn love-child, Frederick realizes that he
cannot depend on any one person, such as Catherine, or any
thing, such as religion, war, or frivolity, for order and
discipline. Hemingway describes Frederick's enlightenment
best in the final paragraph of the novel when Frederick
sees Catherine's corpse for the first and last time.
Frederick's reaction was that "it was like saying good-by
to a statue." Frederick realizes that Catherine was only a
symbol of the order and strength in his life. Strength to
face life must come from within him and only he will be
able to get himself through his own life. He will have to
learn to depend on himself. Frederick realizes this and is
able to get on with his life on his own. "After a while
[he] went out and left the hospital and walked back to the
hotel in the rain." He did not mourn or feel like his own
life had ended with her death, rather he was able to
continue on with his newfound inner strength and face his
world alone.
This novel succeeds in getting Hemingway's message across.
Frederick's realization causes the reader to reflect on
his/her own life and on what institutions they depend on in
their own lives. I enjoyed this novel because I learned
along with Frederick that I must face my life on my own.
The strength to face my problems cannot come from any other
source because no other source can ever be as permanent as
the strength that I can find within myself. 


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