Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

A Farewell to Arms begins in 1915 when Henry, an American, volunteers to be an ambulance driver for the Italians in World War I.    Henry is indifferent and detached from the war and survives by drinking a lot of alcohol and frequenting the local whorehouse. He eventually meets a vulnerable English nurse named Catherine and begins a primitive relationship with her. 

Henry is wounded by a mortar shell and spends months in the hospital where he consummates his relationship with Catherine.  They build an awkward relationship around his hospital room and fall in love.  Henry reluctantly returns to the war and takes part in the famous Italian Caporetto retreat and debacle.  Henry fights for his survival and those under his command.

Hemingway has created a novel with unlikeable characters who struggle to find happiness and peace during WWI.  It is a tragedy told in five parts.  It is melodramatic at times but holds to Hemingway's theory that "war is permanent" and that Nature "can have only one end".  Reading Hemingway, one must acknowledge that what isn't said in the book is just as important as what is.

A Farewell to Arms depicts WWI as difficult, depressing and impossible to escape.  Although Henry escapes the war through his romance with Catherine, it seeks to find him and forever destroy the desperate peace he has found.

The greatest part of the novel for me was the Caporetto retreat as it is well written and vivid in description.  Overall I liked the book even though I didn't particularly like the characters.  I think it is interesting to analyze Hemingway because he was obviously a great novelist for his time.  It is sometimes hard to read great books as their writing style and meaning are lost on a generation who didn't experience the truths and horrors that are represented in the pages of the book.  I do believe A Farewell to Arms is a valuable and memorable piece of literature and I am glad I read it.