"A Farewell To Arms" By Earnest Hemmingway

1751 words - 8 pages

A Farewell to ArmsI had mixed feelings while reading Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms. Initially, I disliked the book intensely, but I continued to read, and eventually I began to appreciate the style he used to write the book. Toward the end of the book I was certain Hemingway was some kind of genius. Finally, I finished the book and, though I disliked the last chapter intensely, I liked A Farewell to Arms very much as a whole.A Farewell to Arms is broken into five sections. In the first, we meet most of the main characters. The first is the narrator, an American officer in the Italian army who drives ambulances. His full name is mentioned once throughout the entire book, and that is in section two, but for structure's sake, we'll include it here. The narrator's name is Frederic Henry. There is also Rinaldi, one of the narrator's friends and his roommate. We also meet the priest, whose name we are never allowed to know. The narrator seems to like the priest very much, and they have conversations throughout the book. Finally, and in fact most importantly, we meet Catherine Barkley, and English nurse with whom the narrator falls in love.During the first section, we learn that the story takes place in Italy during the First World War. Most of this section is used to introduce characters and assure the reader that every male character in the book is a raging alcoholic. Toward the end of the section, the division of the army that the narrator is in launches an offensive. In the early part of the battle, the narrator is injured in a trench while eating cheese and is sent to a new hospital in Milan for treatment and recovery.There were a few subtle points of humor in this chapter, including my favorite, which occurred during a conversation between Miss Barkley and the narrator:"Let's drop the war.""It's very hard. There's no place to drop it."The second section of the book describes the narrator's arrival at the hospital in Milan. He was not expected to come, because the hospital was not yet entirely completed, but they took him in and eventually healed his wounds. The nurse he loves is transferred to this hospital and their affair continues, with the nurse becoming pregnant. Eventually, however, the narrator's recovery is complete, and he goes back to the front.Included within this section are several humorous jabs at bureaucracy and medical doctors, such as in Chapter 15:I have noticed that doctors who fail in the practice of medicine have a tendency to seek one another's company and aid in consultation. A doctor who cannot take out your appendix properly will recommend you to a doctor who will be unable to remove your tonsils with success. These were three such doctors.The doctors in question decided to wait six months for the wound to heal before performing surgery. Another doctor, coming in later, looked at the injury and chose to operate the nest morning with complete success.The third section details the narrator's return to his previous command at the front where things have become very bad. Indeed, the latter half of the section is devoted to describing the army's general retreat. During the retreat, all of the narrator's ambulances are abandoned, as they are all stuck in the mud. Then the group with the narrator finds itself behind enemy lines, and one of the people is shot and killed. Later, when they finally join back up with the rest of the retreating army, and encounter occurs between the narrator and a group of soldiers whose job it is to discover and eliminate German agitators within the retreating line. The narrator is picked out to be questioned, and explains his situation thusly:I was obviously a German in Italian uniform. I saw how their minds worked; if they had minds and if they worked. They were all young men and they were saving their country.Shortly after this, he fled by jumping into a river and swimming away. The section ends as he steals a ride on a train into Milan and plans to meet Catherine Barkley there.In section four, the narrator is in Milan. He sneaks around the city, purchasing new clothing and reuniting himself with his lover. He stays in a hotel for a few days until a man tells him that he will soon be arrested and offers a boat for the couple to escape to Switzerland. They do so, and by the end of the section they have been approved by the police and are checking into a hotel in Switzerland.There was one statement in this section that caught me completely off guard. Throughout the entire book, every questionable word has been edited out with dash marks. I was very accustomed to a pure, wholesome book (besides the references to "bawdy houses" or should we call them "whore houses" for Dr. Ross's sake). Then I come upon this passage:"Othello with his occupation gone," she teased."Othello was a nigger," I said.I suppose at the time the book takes place, and even when it was written, the "n" word was still commonplace and even acceptable, but it caught me off guard no less.The fifth and final section of the book describes the winter the couple lived through in a hotel in Switzerland and the final stages of Catherine's pregnancy. The narrator takes her to the hospital and she is in labor for several hours when the doctor decides to perform a Cesarean section. It seems to go fine, except that the doctor cannot get the baby to begin breathing after it was asphyxiated by the umbilical cord. Then, when Catherine is recovering in another room, she begins to hemorrhage severely. Eventually, she loses consciousness and dies.I didn't really like the ending. Not only for the obvious reason that Catherine and the baby died, but also because the ending didn't seem to flow as well as the rest of the book. It didn't seem to fit. It seemed out of place. Perhaps that is what Hemingway intended when he wrote it, but I still don't like it very much.When looking at the work as a whole, there are a few things I noticed overall. The first is that Rinaldi seemed to be the comic relief for most of the story. He constantly calls the narrator "baby" when talking to him, and often makes clever remarks. A few that I especially liked are these:"I am the snake. I am the snake of reason." (Rinaldi, explaining why some people don't like him.)"You're getting it mixed. The apple was reason." (Narrator, responding.)"No, it was the snake." (Rinaldi again.)and:"To your girl," Rinaldi said. He held out his glass."All right." (Narrator)"I'll never say a dirty thing about her.""Don't strain yourself."and finally:"You have a lovely, pure mind," I said."Haven't I? That's why they call me Rinaldo Purissimo."There are many others, as well.I also noticed that Hemingway's portrayal of Catherine was rather odd. She seemed to have little personality of her own, and little ambition. Throughout the entire book, there was very little conversation of any substance attributed to her, almost as if she was very simple, and her purpose in life was to keep the narrator content.Finally, the style in which the book was written was the main factor in determining whether I appreciated the book at a certain part or not. For example, at the beginning of the book, the style caught me off guard. The sentences were short, forward, and to the point, with very little relevant detail given to each situation. It seemed as if the author had written the book in a single sitting and not gone back to beautify it and complicate it the way so many other books are. Toward the middle of the book, however, I grew accustomed to the style and enjoyed the relief of not having to toil through vast amounts of unimportant details such as in Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter.The last section of the book seems to have changed a bit in style. It seems that Hemingway gave up writing the book in one sitting and tried to perfect it. The content of the last section simply does not seem as spur-of-the-moment as the rest of the book. The change is part of the reason I did not appreciate the ending as much as I did the rest of the book.Dialogue seemed very unrealistic as well. To say that, however, is a bit pessimistic, because what I found to be the least believable, the most out of the ordinary, was the direct way in which people spoke. In the book, people said what they had to say, without deception (for the most part) or trickery or reserve. The speakers went right to the point, said what they had to say and then were done with it.I still have mixed feelings about A Farewell to Arms, but as I look back on the book, I definitely appreciate the change in style from so many other authors (though Hawthorne was an extreme example). The plot line could have been developed a bit more, and more detail thrown in, but then the book would be right back there with all the others, and I think I would like it more the way it is now. I definitely like this book.


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