Love and Agony in A Farewell to Arms
The vigorous, strapping youth boldly advances into war, rifle in hand, picture of mom in his pocket- hair neatly combed, clean socks. Eagerly he arrives on the sunny front and fights off the enemy with valor, saving whole troops of injured soldiers as he throws them over his shoulders and prances upon the grassy lawn to safety. Between various sequential medal-awarding ceremonies, he meets a radiant young nurse tending the blessed wounded he saved. They fall in love, get married, produce beautiful war babies, and everyone returns home happily. Wouldn’t it be just lovely if war were really like that?
It’s not. It’s war. Ernest Hemingway’s, A Farewell to Arms is a book about war. As a reader, when I start reading a book about death, blood, guts, and destruction, I typically will not expect a Cinderella “Happily Ever After,” “aw, isn’t that sweet?” ending. But, isn’t it a love story? Well, yes, it’s love in war. Let us not forget the circumstances that surround and confine this love. Is the tragic ending of the novel thus valid? Well, yes- it is war, after all. Few good things result. Am I pro-ending? Well, I’m certainly not rejoicing over the death of two innocent lives, nor do I think Mr. Henry does either. There is a difference though between recognizing the possible realism of the story, including how the ending fits into it, and personally liking the occurrences within- I for one have no strengthened desire to pack my bags and head off to war.
Pain and agony, blood and guts, bodies strewn over fields of mud are all immediate turn-offs for me. But, besides the obvious, my biggest issue with the war is that it causes the characters to create their own fragile wor…
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…ou’ll never get married…You’ll die then. Fight or Die. That’s what people do. They don’t marry.’ ” (108).
Indeed, it’s war. They don’t get married. She does get pregnant. She does die, as did many young women in such times and circumstances, in childbirth. Is this unreasonable? Of course not. Is it sad? Very much so. Does the one who loved her, however superficially it may have been, rejoice over her death? No. He prays for her survival, and he grieves. He didn’t want to see his buddies die on the battlefield, he didn’t want to see Rinaldi die from a sexually transmitted disease, and he certainly didn’t want to see the death of his so-called wife and newborn child. War brings pain. Even through the pretending, no one can truly escape the agony.
Hemingway, Ernest. A Farewell to Arms. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1929.