Farewell To Arms: Religion Essay

Religion in “A Farewell to Arms”

     For hundreds of years, writers have used religion as a principle issue and point of discussion in their novels. Hawthorne expressed his views in The Scarlet Letter, Garcia Marquez did the same in One Hundred Years of Solitude and in other writings, and even Ernest Hemingway used his writing to develop his own ideas concerning the church. This is fully evident in his novel A Farewell to Arms. Even in a book in which the large majority of the characters profess their atheism, the ideas of the church materialize repeatedly as both characters and as topics of conversations. Religion is presented through reflections of the protagonist “Lieutenant Henry,” and through a series of encounters involving Henry and a character simply identified as “the priest.” Hemingway uses the treatment of the priest by the soldiers and by Henry himself to illustrate two ways of approaching religion in a situation in which God has no place, and employs these encounters between the priest and other characters as a means of expressing religious views of his own.

Most evident to the reader is the strict difference between the priest’s relationship with Henry and that which he has with the other soldiers. Hemingway repeatedly emphasizes this in all sections of the book, even after Henry is injured, when he is completely isolated from the other soldiers. The first instance the reader sees of this is only six pages into the novel. Hemingway writes, “That night in the mess after the spaghetti course . . . the captain commenced picking on the priest” (6-7). Hemingway’s diction is suggestive: “commenced” signifies not only that the soldiers began to pick on the priest, but that ridiculing the priest was their main activity prior to dinner as well as after. Almost the same scenario is portrayed only a few pages later: “the meal was finished, and the argument went on. We two stopped talking and the captain shouted, ‘Priest not happy. Priest not happy without girls.'” (14). The soldiers’ ridicule of the priest is again highlighted when Henry, bed-stricken with his injury, asks the priest “How is the mess?” (69). The priest replies “I am still a great joke” (69). The reader sees an obvious pattern in the relationship between the priest and the others. Mo…

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…igion and God that the reader will receive in the novel. God may or may not be there, but that doesn’t affect, and certainly does not help, anyone in the book or in the war itself.

     The views Hemingway presents in the novel at this point become, if not clear, at least more accessible to the reader. The priest no longer represents God. He does represent religion, for this is why he receives the verbal battery he does from the soldiers. But to Henry and to the reader he is simply another man with strong beliefs. God, in the novel, either does not exist or is completely apathetic to the actions of man. The one religious icon the reader sees in the book, the St. Anthony necklace Catherine gives to Henry, is disregarded and lost within twenty pages. Henry’s strongest sense of devotion in the book is to Catherine, and in this way love for him is a “religious” feeling, but by no other definition of the word is this true. The priest nicely expresses Hemingway’s message when he says, “there in my country it is understood that a man may love God. It is not a dirty joke” (71). The frontlines are no place for religion. God has no place in war.

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