Masaryk University Faculty of Arts

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3.4The effect of using the theme of dignity

By using dignity Hemingway manages to establish some interesting contrasts. One of them is between the old traditions of Spain against the loosened morals of Paris. Because morality is one of the attributes one has to have to be considered dignified, by contrasting, he manages to make dignity stand out. In addition, by illustrating his company and Paris on the edge of morality he deprives them of some amount of dignity.

Another thing is the huge gap between Jake Barnes and Robert Cohn, also accomplished by contrasting their behaviour, which leads to a conclusion that according to Hemingway there are two ways of suffering from unrequited love. From his illustration of Jake and Cohn can be deducted an instruction on how to keep dignity: it is better to suffer silently and keep your dignity as Jake shows than to lose it and become ridiculed like Cohn who exhibits his feelings openly and causes disputes. Hemingway seems to connect dignity with masculinity therefore when Cohn behaves hysterically he loses his dignity.

Hemingway also examines the dignity of women, showing Frances, Georgette and Brett - all of them somehow lose their dignity. Frances by her almost begging to get married and then her bitterness after she fails, making a scene and again showing her feelings publicly; Georgette by her lack of self-respect as she seems not to mind her rotten teeth and most importantly her venereal disease, which she can spread. Brett with her sexual appetite breaks up all relationships around her. She exchanges very short moments of relative satisfaction for real happiness, which she is unable to find and always ends up in a mess, dependent on someone else to help her. By exploring Jake′s love, which is rather immoral behaviour, she loses even more dignity and simultaneously decreases Jake′s for his inability to be true to his moral standards. According to the definitions taken from the dictionaries, Brett has hardly any dignity but by the Hobbes standards – she is pretty and popular – she has value and therefore dignity. In my opinion, if she had dignity, she would keep her intimate life secret instead of spreading pain among the people who care about her.

4.Farewell to Arms

This book, showing the horrible aspects of a war, is a great example of the application of the somehow abstract term dignity into cruel and unfair, real life.

During World War I, Frederick Henry (American signed into the Italian army to manage ambulances at one part of the front) falls in love with a nurse, Catherine Barkley. He is injured during a bombing and transported to Milan where his relationship continues in secrecy. Catherine ends up pregnant and Frederick must return to the front. It does not last long, the Italian army is forced to retreat and in the process Frederick and his men are separated from the rest. Under the imminent danger of being shot as an officer deserting his men or as German spy he actually deserts the army, finds Catherine and together they get on a boat to Switzerland. They live several months in complete happiness until the time of the childbirth comes and after the Caesarean delivery of a stillborn child Catherine dies. The story is narrated in retrospective and it is not clear how long after Catherine′s death Frederick started to recollect past events.

4.1Matching wounds

The inspiration for this book is very clear. Hemingway himself was injured as a driver of ambulance on the Italian border. Even though he was not an officer, he received the star. Frederick′s injuries on his legs are similar to those Hemingway suffered but in the story, he did not manage to save anyone. Frederick, as well as Hemingway, fell in love with nurse and it has an unhappy ending for both of them.

Hemingway used another chapter of his life in the story – the complications during the birth of his second son. With his medical background as a son of a physician, together with his experience with convalescence and the waiting room of a hospital, he is able to very vividly illustrate the procedures and the feelings connected to them.

4.2The dignity of places

It is not easy to find dignity in the middle of a war because the places are destroyed or misused for military purpose. When Frederick is on the front it is either early spring or autumn which provides a gloomy description of the surroundings: “There were mists over the river and clouds on the mountain and the trucks splashed mud on the road and the troops were muddy and wet in their capes; . . .” (4). Everything that is considered pure and dignified in Hemingway′s writings – a river, a mountain, men – is covered up.

Frederick thinks of dignity after talking to an ambulance driver who uses the expression “in vain” (184) and Frederick remembers how often he has heard or read popular phrases like this and that they became just empty words which he could not stand to hear, he thinks that “. . . only the names of places had dignity” (185).

His stay in Milan was pleasant but it had nothing to do with dignity. At the end of the book however, he and Catherine moved to Switzerland and were attracted to the mountains which were pure and dignified, a great place to start a family.


The main protagonist is an American Frederick Henry, who is originally an architect living in Rome. When the war starts he enlists in the Italian army because he knows the language and America is not in the war yet. He discussed with his drivers the matters of punishment to soldiers who do not execute their orders out of fear of death. They are killed by their officers and their whole family is punished, by being stripped of their rights to vote, be protected or own property, to set an example (49). They argue that if it was not for punishment regular people would not fight and therefore there would be an end to the war. It is a very naive and simple thought but Frederick is not able to explain the consequences of such behaviour. This happens before he is in love, it seems that by finding someone to love made him more understandable as well as moral. At the beginning he is on leave and he makes a decision between pure, dignified temples in the mountains or whorehouses in the dirty cities, by then he picked the second one. He admits that instead of visiting a place “where the roads were frozen and hard as iron, where it was clear cold and dry and the snow was dry and powdery . . .” (13) he chose the cafés full of smoke and being so drunk that when he woke up he did not know who he was with (13). After he meets Catherine he deserts the army which he condemned before and they move into mountains, to start a new life.

Another interesting figure connected with dignity is the priest who has very hard times. In different circumstances, priests convey dignity gained from their moral, prudent life. This priest however, working on the front in extreme conditions, became a target for mockery. Hemingway, even though he was religious, shows that in such a horrible place the thought of God is rather ridiculous or ironical. Thousands of people died from cholera (4) and tens of thousands died in fighting, they are disposable and treated that way. As a result soldiers lose their dignity as the hope for survival declines and their previous life is just a memory, now they have only one purpose and that is to kill or to die.

Rinaldi is Frederick′s roommate and friend. He works as a surgeon and he visits the whorehouse quite often, as Frederick used to before he met Catherine. Rinaldi is cheerful at the beginning but as war continues he becomes depressed and convinced he has syphilis. It would be easy to assume that by visiting prostitutes he behaved amorally and therefore loses his dignity, but the world is not black and white. He needs to focus when he works and is under lot of pressure – close contact with women, the human contact, helps him to preserve his sanity so he can continue and help people. If it was not for this reason, the army would not provide new girls regularly (12). When there is a delay Rinaldi complains “It is disgraceful. They aren′t girls; they are old war comrades” (65). They were not changed for two weeks and they became friends, which made it hard to pay for the same services as those from anonymous women.

Another important character is Catherine. Almost through the whole book she is uninteresting, she is in love with Frederick and she does what he tells her to do as if she had no other ambitions than to please him. Once she feels “like whore” (152) when she is taken into a cheap hotel just for a few hours, she values herself higher and maybe does not want to be seen as this kind of girl by staff of the hotel, because her dignity would be shattered. She shakes off this feeling and her moral values to make Frederick happy. Where her dignity stands up is in the time of her dying. She dies as gracefully as she lived. “Sometimes I know I′m going to die” (323) says Catherine before surgery. When she has complications she hates the fact that she must die but she is not afraid (330-31). She carries her dignity, she smiles for the last time for the person she loves, tries to be cheerful, showing bravery selflessly, for his sake and then she dies peacefully and practically in her sleep – which is considered as a good way to die.
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