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.
As in "The Sun Also Rises," Ernest Hemingway lays the scene of his new novel in Europe. But, unlike the earlier novel, he is not concerned with the aftermath of the war, but with certain years and phases of the war itself. Consequently, "A Farewell to Arms," if it is to be given classification, belongs to the rapidly crowding shelf of war novels. Later literary historians will doubtless concern themselves with these novels as a group; will view them as a group phenomenon. They will dissect the several specimens, and point out differences and similarities. It is too early for this, and even if it could be of interest, it lies beyond the scope of contemporary review. Suffice it to say, however, that Mr. Hemingway has concerned himself with a phase of the war not yet much used, the collapse of the Italian front in 1917, and that, in consequence, so far as his novel is to be regarded solely as a war book, it has the freshness of depiction in a new field.
Dramatic as are the pages dealing with the Caporetto debacle, the war, however, is but a background for the real story, and this in spite of the fact that this story is itself an outgrowth of the war. The love of Lieutenant Henry for the nurse Catherine Barkley, a love so great that Henry eventually deserts, as he puts it, "declares separate peace," could only have come in the war and out of the war. The story of this attachment is poetic, idyllic, tragic. The part which will sit least comfortably with the reader is Henry's desertion. For, however humorous may be the Lieutenant's gloss, and how much he may have been justified in his own eyes by the shooting by the "battle police" of officers who failed to hold their troops in line (assuming that this was done), nevertheless, so great a fetish is heroism, that, however often it may not be practiced in fact, one cringes slightly at an author's flouting it in fiction in which he had already focused the attention on a lyric relationship.
And yet perhaps with the mention of this as a debatable point one gone to the very core of what may be termed the Hemingway school. For this school admits the validity of no fetish, in life or in art. It prides itself on its cold reportorial aloofness. And men did desert during the war. Moreover, Lieutenant Henry was in the ambulance service, not a line officer. It is all one, therefore, with fiction's employment of Caesarian operations and the mention of obscure anatomical parts. It is the new art.
There is in "A Farewell to Arms" no change from the narrative method of "The Sun Also Rises" and "Men Without Women." Ernest Hemingway did not invent the method, which is chiefly to be characterized by the staccato nature of sentences (an effort at reproducing universal conversational habit), and its rigid exclusion of all but the most necessary description. Yet if Hemingway was not the inventor of the method, tentative gropings toward such a manner having been made by many of his immediate predecessors, the author of "A Farewell to Arms" has, in his several books, made it so strikingly his own that it may bear his name, and is likely to henceforward. The method has its advantages, and also its disadvantages.
The chief result is a sort of enamel lustre imparted to the story as a whole, not precisely an iridescence, but a white light, rather, that pales and flashes, but never warms. And because it never warms, or never seems to warm, the really human in Hemingway (and there is a great deal in Hemingway that is human) fails of its due. It is not impossible that Ernest Hemingway has developed his style to the extreme to which he carries it because in it he finds a sort of protective covering for a nature more sensitive than he would have one know. A Victorian telling the story of Henry and Catherine would have waxed sentimental; he would have sought the tears of his reader. And he would surely himself have shed tears as he wrote. We do not attempt to say how much Mr. Hemingway may have been affected by his narrative; but it is certain he has no desire to see his readers weep. Mr. Hemingway's manner does not seem to be quite an enduring thing, any more than was Victorian heaviness enduring. But the Hemingway manner is arresting purely as craftsmanship. And if its extreme naturalism borders dangerously on unnaturalism, for the reason that the effect of the printed pages must be, perforce, different from the effect of speech, then it behooves other craftsmen to find the proper modification. Yet it expresses the spirit of the moment admirably. In fact, seldom has a literary style so precisely jumped with the time.
There will be debate as to whether "A Farewell to Arms" is a finer piece of work than "The Sun Also Rises." And there will be cogent arguments advanced on either side. On the surface, the newer story is more effective than the earlier novel. There is more drama, the movement is more nearly continuous and better sustained. And the story of the love between the English nurse and the American ambulance officer, as hapless as that of Romeo and Juliet, is a high achievement in what might be termed the new romanticism. And yet for the present reviewer "The Sun Also Rises" touches a note which Hemingway caught once, and, in the very nature of the thing, cannot touch again. In the attachment of Lady Brett for her physically incapacitated lover there is a profound and genuine affection which has something of inspiration. And the pathos of Lady Brett, that she can maintain this only by derelictions, evidences psychology so subtle that it has hitherto evaded the literary worker, and been not always discernible to the scientifically schooled. Others could have done the Caporetto retreat, though perhaps not so dramatically; and others would have imagined the lyric love of "A Farewell to Arms," although perhaps not carrying it through so poetically. "The Sun Also Rises," as it seems to this writer, at least, is more nearly unique as a document and as a novel. Yet he would not wish to lose, therefore, "The Farewell to Arms." It is a moving and beautiful book.