A Farewell to Arms: Literary Analysis, Motifs, Symbols

February 11, 2021 by Essay Writer

A Farewell to Arms Journal

A Farewell to Arms is a novel by Ernest Hemingway, published in 1929.

The story is told in first-person, past tense by the main character, Frederic Henry. This means that there are two versions of Henry that the reader must take into account: Henry the narrator and Henry the character who is being told about. This raises the question of narrator reliability. What is the narrator’s motive in telling the story? Is he being truthful or bending events to fit his bias? Henry the narrator never reveals his current whereabouts, age, how much time has passed since the events he is describing, or any other general information about himself. However, the lack of information the narrator gives as to his current situation can be seen as increasing his reliability, as he is focusing solely and totally on confessing the events of his past, rather than where he is now. The narrator also does not make Henry a perfect character. Henry risks his life to care for wounded soldiers and treats Catherine fairly well, but he also lies, drinks frequently, and engages in other morally questionable behaviors. Henry the narrator does not try to make himself look good in his telling of events, but portrays himself as imperfect and multifaceted.

The character of Catherine has been seen as both proof that Hemingway was misogynistic and as a more deep, intricate character. While Catherine does seem dependent on Henry (saying, for example, “There isn’t any me. I’m you. Don’t make up a separate me.”), she is also a brave and strong woman, working hard to tend to men wounded in the war. Her intense love for Henry may be part of a coping mechanism to deal with the chaos of war all around her. Her love keeps her from being all-encompassed by grief and sorrow over her fiance, the war, and the other troubles of her life.

Hemingway has a clearly recognizable style of writing that is present throughout A Farewell to Arms (and his other works). Sentences tend to be abrupt and to-the-point, without excessive figurative or poetic language. Though the situations Henry finds himself in are chaotic and violent, this is not portrayed in the dialogue and narration, which tends to be fairly calm. This fits in with Hemingway’s famous “Iceberg Principle.” Hemingway believed that the reader needed only the surface information, like the surface of an iceberg, to understand the complex situations and ideas that are actually being discussed in the novel, the unseen part of the iceberg. The dialogue and narration may be calm and ordered, but the tumultuous situations and ideas at the heart of the novel can be derived and understood from it. The tone of the novel tends to be confessional. Henry is not lying to make himself look good or glorify his bravery during war time, he is confessing some of the most intense and dark times of his life, from his falling in love with Catherine to his indifferent response to his dying child.

One of the most prominent symbols in A Farewell to Arms is the frequent rain. The rain represents the inevitable end of Catherine and Henry’s love and all other things in life. Catherine says that rain scares her and ruins things for lovers, and doom does eventually come to their relationship. Henry’s walking back to the hotel in the rain reaffirms that the fact that all things, love or otherwise, come to an end. Another symbol in the novel is Catherine’s hair. When Catherine lets down her hair around Henry’s head, he says that it reminds him of a waterfall or being inside a tent. Her hair represents their happiness and the temporary isolation from the chaotic world that their love provides for them.

A motif that can be found in the novel is masculinity. Henry, like many of Hemingway’s lead characters, is a “man’s man.” He engages in masculine activities and has a fairly masculine profession. Hemingway inserts humor occasionally by mocking characters that would not be considered as macho and manly as characters like Henry or Rinaldi. Rinaldi makes fun of the priest for his lack of sexuality and Dr. Valentini is described as impressive partly because of the three physically unimpressive and overly cautious men who came before him.

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