Religion and Love (Sacred and Profane)
The novel is primarily a love story that chronicles the relationship between Frederic Henry and Catherine Barkley through courtship, consummation, reaffirmation and finally separation by Catherine's death. Throughout the story, the war serves as a catalyst to their relationship not only creating the circumstances that bring them together emotionally but force their temporary separation as well. During the course of the story, Frederic's ideas about love are influenced not only by his growing feelings for Catherine, but also by his conversations with the priest and later with Count Greffi. The priest informs Frederic that the true nature of love, such as the priest has for God, is one in which you desire to serve the object of your affections and the Count qualifies that sentiment by advising Frederic that love for a woman is an act of devotion on par with religious feeling. These sentiments come to a head during the crises of Catherine's protracted labor when Frederic, who previously espoused no particular religious feeling, prays to God for her safety.
Loyalty and War
When we first meet Frederic he is an officer in the Italian army serving in the ambulance corps and the United States has not yet entered the war. Although the novel takes place during the first world war, its action is centered on the northern Italian-Austrian front which though horrific in its own right, was considerably less intense than the fighting in France between the French/British and the Germans. Catherine calls it a "silly front." Frederic admits to Catherine that he doesn't know why he joined the army and thinks that perhaps it was only because he was in the country and spoke the language. His first experience with combat is cut short when a shell wounds him before the attack even begins. Later, when he returns to the front after the Italian army has suffered several military reverses and great loss of life, he gleans the increased pessimism and defeatism running rampant through the troops. Typical of novels set in the First World War, Frederic becomes disillusioned, though unlike other stories from that era such as Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front or Frederic Manning's The Middle Parts of Fortune, Hemingway's central character is not of the country for which he is fighting. Thus, when Frederic escapes the summary execution at the river and makes a "separate peace", his status as an American citizen aids him in shrugging off any lingering feelings of responsibility.
Death and Mortality
Death is a constant in the story beginning with Passini's violent demise in the dugout and continuing through Aymo's death during the retreat. Both these deaths are from the war and are, in Frederic's estimation, random and unavoidable. Frederic cheats death twice in the story; first, when he survives his wounds and second, when he escapes the executioners. Whatever sense of empowerment this might have yielded, it is undermined when he learns the true nature of mortality when Catherine dies during childbirth. Her death leads Frederic to conclude, as did Hemingway after his own experiences in the war, that each man owes life a death and that sooner or later we all must pay.
Written in 1929 by Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms has always been considered a classic piece of literature. A major source of the novel’s success is how its themes tied into real life experiences during the First World War. While soldiers of the war fought for their country, they searched for love to escape total chaos and destruction. The two main themes in A Farewell to Arms are the gruesome reality of war and the relationship between love and pain. The first main theme of A Farewell to Arms is the devastation that war brings.
Just as the title explains, A Farewell to Arms deals primarily with the process by which the protagonist, Frederic Henry, disconnects himself from the war and leaves it behind. While there are a few characters in the novel who actually support the effort, such as Ettore Moretti, a majority of the characters remain uncertain about the war, angry of the complete devastation it causes, and unconvinced of the splendor it supposedly brings. For example, while Henry and Passini discuss the war, Henry says, “I believe we should get the war over…
It would not finish if one side stopped fighting. It would only be worse if we stopped fighting” (Chapter 9, Page 49). The second main theme of the novel is the connection between love and pain. While the war takes place, Hemingway depicts the true, mysterious behavior of love. Although Catherine mourns for her dead fiance, she quickly begins to seduce Henry. Her intentions for courting Henry are obvious, that is she wants to separate herself from the pain of losing her fiance by finding a new love to fill the void.
Likewise, Henry attempts to distance himself from the war as much as possible. By doing so, Henry and Catherine find comfort within each other from the dilemmas that surround them. Just like they fell in love with each other, Henry’s feelings for Catherine pass just as quickly as he witnesses her death. As he gives farewell to Catherine’s body, Henry says, “But after I got them to leave and shut the door and turned off the light it wasn’t any good. It was like saying good-by to a statue. After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain” (Chapter 41, Page 332).
Although Henry and Catherine genuinely loved each other, Henry’s heart is now void without the companionship of Catherine. The tragedy of A Farewell to Arms is that their love, although authentic, can never be more than temporary. In my opinion, I enjoyed this novel for a few reasons. First, A Farewell to Arms is a semi-autobiography about Hemingway and his time fighting in the Italian campaigns during World War I. Secondly, the novel is able to give perspective of the troubles and triumphs of those soldiers that fought during the war.
Finally, the mysterious love that Henry and Catherine have for each other proved to be interesting and unusual. In conclusion, A Farewell to Arms proved to be a masterpiece in my opinion. While addressing the struggles and feats of those soldiers who fought during World War I, we are able to dive into the conscious of a unique fighter who parts himself from the war as much as possible while trying to find true love, even though the reasoning behind finding love was only to help escape from the war.