Review of Ernest Hemingway's Novel A Farewell to Arms


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Ernest Hemingway’s novel, A Farewell to Arms, first published in 1929, largely takes place on the Italian front during World War I. This novel follows Frederic Henry, an American lieutenant serving in the ambulance corps of the Italian army. Ernest Hemingway invites us into the friendships, heroism, hardships, and the love story of Frederic Henry.

Throughout this novel, Frederic Henry works along with his closest friend Rinaldi, who is a skilled surgeon in the army that drinks too much and visits many women. He is provided with spiritual advice from the Priest who is often teased by the other guys. Frederic Henry is introduced to a woman that Rinaldi swears his love for, an English nurse by the name of Catherine Barkley. Each character has a profound impact on Frederic’s life in different ways. Through this portrayal, the novel suggests Frederic Henry is a man of honor who doesn’t expect praise for his heroism but lacks love in his life. Catherine Barkley, the nurse who can be interpreted as weak and dependent, shows Henry that love is a possibility. She teaches us that facing hardships in life doesn’t have to prevent you from living a satisfying life. The Priest challenges Frederic Henry’s belief that he is in love with Catherine by describing it as lust and continues to teach him and us as readers that you are able to maintain your beliefs and values while facing scrutiny from your peers. Rinaldi is living life to the fullest as an admirable and heroic surgeon and friend but falls short as a womanizer and alcoholic. We learn from this that you may have flaws but that doesn’t reflect on you as a person.

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The relationship between Catherine Barkley and Frederic Henry is romanitic yet odd. Both characters are scared of love. Frederic claims he has never been in love while Catherine mourns the death of her boyfriend. She carries a thin rattan stick that his mother sent to her after his death. Frederic questions Catherine about not marrying the boy. She ask him ask him afterwards if he has ever loved anyone. This seemed to be a great deal of personal questions for someone to have just met. I can only assume that Catherine felt comfortable asking this because she had discussed so much about her previous relationship. Although Catherine feels comfortable with asking questions, she refrains herself from accepting a kiss from Frederic. “I leaned forward in the dark to kiss her and there was a sharp stinging flash” (24). Afterwards, Catherine agrees to the kiss followed by questions of Frederic being good to her. I think the novel tries to portray Catherine as weak and submissive with giving Henry all the power in the relationship. Hemingway goes on to describe Frederic and Catherine discussing marriage. “Don’t talk as though you had to make an honest woman out of me. I’m a very honest woman”. This is an example of Catherine being strong willed. Afterwards, she describes herself as so faithful.

All through the novel you see Catherine as someone who adores Frederic but is also her own person. Hemingway describes women as ladies of the night, as entertainment for the men in this novel but Catherine is a brave woman who knows her place. Some may confuse her behavior as desperate for Frederic but I see her as a self confident, brave woman that has learned to accept things that she cannot change. In addition, to learning from Catherine Barkley about life and love, Frederic Henry has the Priest at his side to offer spiritual guidance along his journey. The Priest is dealt a rough hand with the other guys. He is often the target of jokes from the other men because he takes his title serious. He chooses not to “play” with the available girls as the other men do. I see this as strength and power. He believes what Frederic describes to him about his nights with Catherine as lust. “What you tell me about in the nights. That is not love. That is only passion and lust”. He goes on to describe love as a sacrifice and as a service. He says later that he has not loved a woman. I see this as his interpretation of love pertaining to God. He sacrifices his human nature to want to be with the girls and chooses to serve God as a man of integrity. Lastly, Frederic Henry has Rinaldi, a lieutenant, who is also a man of integrity. He spends his days and nights as a skilled surgeon saving the lives of those that serve.

In the beginning of the novel, it is a possibility that we are being led to think that Rinaldi has more of a friendship love for Frederic. Rinaldi’s over the top, flamboyant personality in our time period would make people think that Rinaldi is gay. To be honest at first I thought this. As you read you learn that Rinaldi is someone that loves and respects Frederic. He shows this on page 59 where he talks about having Frederic decorated with the bronze or silver. Further in the novel you start to see Rinaldi evolve. On page 150, Frederic asks Rinaldi what is the matter with him. “The war is killing me, I am very depressed by it”. Rinaldi is normally an upbeat, go with the flow, and let’s have all the fun kind of guy. This shows the war is draining him. Even in our time now the war has affected many people. Although the war was tough I feel like he had some underlying issues that were not revealed to us. With his imperfections, he is still stood as a heroic figure in this novel. He made a profound impact on Henry’s life as a friend by caring, giving advice, and just being himself. It shows that Henry never forgets him or the Priest as the novel comes to an end when Catherine asks Frederic what he wonders about. He answers “About Rinaldi and the priest and lots of people I know”.

In conclusion, I feel like Hemingway encourages us to think for ourselves. This novel is basically our own individual interpretation due to the gaps that fill it. We learn that Frederic Henry is close friends with Rinaldi, enjoys his company, and embarks on the lady train with him till he meets Catherine Barkley. The Priest doesn’t understand Frederic and Catherine’s love because he has only experienced his love for God. Catherine is a sometimes portrayed as weak due to the overwhelming amount of love she feels for Frederic. We are taught the length of how far her strength travels till the ending when she dies.

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