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A Farewell to Arms - A Love Story


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 

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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