The Truth of War Exposed in A Farewell to Arms
The soldier takes his last breath as he faces the menacing glare of the beast known as the enemy gun. Emotions run through him as he awaits the final blow that will determine his destiny. Memories flash through his mind, none of which will be of any significance once he leaves this world. Out of the barrel of the gun, had suddenly come terror, murder, and chaos, all at once. “I say it’s rotten. Jesus Christ, I say it’s rotten.” (Hemingway 35) Summarized in two sentences is Ernest Hemingway’s personal attitude towards World War I.
In A Farewell to Arms by Hemingway, the characters criticize the war and views it as the source of their misery. Instead of finding the patriotic and courageous hero engaged victorious battle scenes, this novel portrays the so-called hero as a brazen who lacks any ambition. This is the story of war seen through the cynical eyes of a Red Cross ambulance driver who lived the horrors. Through a combination of ironic, cynical and apathetic tones, Hemingway’s contempt towards World War I is reflected in the nature surroundings and the voice of his characters.
Primarily, Hemingway attempts to expose the truths behind the war through his characters by using a tone of cynicism. In the dialogues and streams-of-consciousness, characters repeatedly avow their reprobation for the war.
“Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were obscene.” (185) These words that once held meaning has now lost its significance. No longer is the war about patriotism or courage; instead it is replaced by a certain crookedness, the national glories lost somewhere in-between the madness. War is now where the soldiers …
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…; and to achieve national glory, spirits are broken repeatedly until the point where they only wish to die. The result is war, an outcome of the cruel and senseless world where violence is the backslash of violence. There is no glory here; there is only condemnation. The cynical words of Hemingway’s characters are his own, the apathetic attitude of Fred is meant to represent himself, and the irony of the destruction on nature, is just one more reason why Hemingway opposes the war. Hiding behind his characters, it’s the diary of Hemingway himself.
Hemingway, Ernest. A Farewell to Arms. 1929. New York, NY: Scribner Paperback Fiction, 1995.
Nagel, James. “Catherine Barkley and Retrospective Narration.” Critical Essays on Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. Ed. George Monteiro. New York, NY: G. K. Hall & Co., 1994. 161-174.