Ernest Hemingway/From Reality to Fiction A Farewell to Arms

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3.From Reality to Fiction: A Farewell to Arms

Hemingway published "A Farewell to Arms" at a time when many other World War I books were published: (including Frederic Manning "Her Privates We", Erich Maria Remarque "All Quiet on the Western Front", Richard Aldington "Death of a Hero", and Robert Grave "Goodbye to All That".)

By this time, Hemingway was no longer in love with Sister von Kurowsky and had divorced Hadley. He had fathered a boy named Patrick who was, like Henry's son in the novel, delivered by Cesarean section. The intense labor pains of his second wife, Pauline, inspired Catherine's labor in the novel. Ernest and Pauline were criss-crossing the USA by that time, as if Hemingway might be trying, like Frederic Henry, to escape his past.

Finally, Hemingway's father committed suicide, shot himself in the head with an old Civil War pistol.

Many of the novel's characters are based on real life persons, like Helen Ferguson, who reminds the reader of Kitty Cannell, who "warned Hadley, whom she considered to be a put-upon and long-suffering angel, that her husband was unreliable"(Burgess (9.), p. 40) many times as Ferguson did on pages 98- 99 and 219-222, and the priest, who represents Don Giuseppe Bianchi, the priest of the 69th and 70th regiments of the Brigata Ancona. A mystery in its own right is the character Rinaldi who had already appeared in "In Our Time".

One of the main themes of the novel is the unity of life and death, illustrated by a number of striking pictures like the soldiers carrying ammunition boxes, who "marched as though they were gone six months with child"(A Farewell (1.), p. 4), Frederic's flight in a wagon full of guns and Catherine's death in childbirth.

The book is not a war novel, but, as Anthony Burgess put it, "a complex statement about the nature of human commitment, presented against a background of war vividly caught."(Burgess (9.), p. 55). Death and the cruelty of war are ever-present, dwelling below the surface, rarely erupting into the sight of the protagonist.

As a criticism of war, again and again, Frederic Henry thinks and talks of Napoleon. By confronting the obsolete, romantic way of warmaking with the real thing, Hemingway showed the contrast between the official patriotic propaganda and the harsh reality. With Henry's famous monologue "I was always embarrassed by the words sacred, glorious, and sacrifice [...]"(A Farewell (1.), p. 165), he sketches a wordly philosophy. Sacrifice equaled slaughter; the glory and honor they all came for was replaced by butchery.

This is the disillusionment of the Lost Generation, and it led Frederic to stop thinking. Hemingway displays this in a number of other images. When Frederic is offered a sword in an armorer's shop, he says he went back to the front and thus had no need for it. Catherine describes her lover's death ("He didn't have a sabre cut. They blew him all to bits"(A Farewell (1.), p. 19)).

A Farewell to Arms is a male fantasy all the way through, a kind of ambulance driver's wet dream. Lieutenant Henry always seems to know what to do and say. Women are attracted. Men respect him. Italians treat him as an Italian. Nurse Barkley falls for him so much she thinks of little else. Cooks and valets knock themselves out for him. Counts want to play billiards with him. Always in grave danger, he always escapes. The entire novel is built on this shallow kind of fantasy. And yet... even wet dreams come on different artistic levels. If the plot is third-rate, the novel is beautifully observed in certain particulars and beautifully written.


next: /The Time in Between