Hemmingway’s “A Farewell to Arms” – Glorifying or Rejecting Modern Warfare?


Ernest Hemmingway was all through interested in fighting the First World War immediately after high school while he was still a teenager. Though determined and with his determination to do this, he was rejected since he had poor eyesight something that made people feel that he could not succeed in doing so. However, he had the zeal and the desire that kept driving him towards what he felt was right. He started by being a Red Cross ambulance driver for the Italians.

While doing this work as a volunteer, he got wounded in the year 1918 as a result of a mortar shell. According to Fussel, while he was recovering in hospital, he fell in love with a nurse Agnes who did not in return love him and even rejected his marriage proposal (Fussell, 73). A farewell to arms is then a story based on an American ambulance driver and a nurse who was English. Hemingway uses Fredric Henry as the main character who is seen to be undergoing similar situations as he did in his own life. Through the use of the different characters with his own life, he was then able to drive his point home in relation to war.

According to Hemmingway, war could have been as a result of people’s actions and this was portrayed by the shooting of an engineer who supposedly refused to release a car from the shocks of mud. The reason as to why he used such an example was with the aim of showing the reader that violence could have been brought up by the odds that existed between people due to their characters. He uses Henry as a guy who was calm but shot the engineer after he refused to conform with his orders.

The other reason as to why he used this situation was to show that the incident took place in a setting that enabled its being robbed the moral import. It was thus the complicity of Henry’s soldiers that legitimized the killing. The murder of the engineer therefore was justified since it was an inevitable byproduct of the so called spiraling violence (Simmons, 36) as well as the disorder of the war. It is therefore clear that the novel does not fully condemn war since the death of an innocent engineer was an inevitable cause of war. This thus explains that war is also an inevitable occurrence especially if the world is senseless and cruel.

Hemmingway explains that war is not anything good but a dark moment and an extension of the world that is murderous which refuses to acknowledge the existence of love, its protection as well as the preservation of true love. Henry and Catherine started by being friends and this were after Catherine’s husband died in the war. Catherine had the pain deep inside her and as she told Henry her story, she had the aim of seducing him and Henry also became free with Catherine so that they grew intimate to each other which then yielded to their relationship. It is this relationship that made Henry run away from war and go out of his way to looking for Catherine “There, darling. Now you’re all clean inside and out. Tell me. How many people have you ever loved?” (Hemmingway, p. 111). These were the jokes that Henry and Catherine had when he was in the hospital and this means that they were both interested in knowing each other better from their past.

Henry is seen to be a loyal person and this is not only in the political ground but also in his relationship that is his love affair with Catherine. This loyalty is seen to be an important requirement in love than in war. Though Henry is serious with his duty as a lieutenant, he avoids all those ideals that are imagined to fuel soldiers in combating. He is unlike his colleagues Ettero Moretti and Gino since the promise of honoring as well as being patriotic to his nation do not matter as expected to him “Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and the dates” (Hemmingway, p. 192).

Although he shoots an engineer due to his failure of complying with his orders, he then follows the engineer’s footsteps by abandoning his job in the army as well as his responsibilities. Hemingway therefore uses this example to show that abandonment and loyalty do not always lie at the opposite sides in relation to the morals of the society. They are therefore dependent on the priorities that one has in his life.

According to Henry, he treasured his life more than anything and since he could not get the comfort that he needed by being in war that gave him a reason to always look for Catherine in search of his comfort. Henry would therefore leave his job and go spend time with Catherine and this meant that the war was a barrier to his happiness and that is the reason as to why he always wanted to spend time with Catherine.

Most of the characters in the novel have been used to show how destructive war is since it has most of the negative impacts associated with it. A good example was Catherine who lost her husband through the war. The novel therefore offers a masterpiece of descriptions that explain brutality as well as senseless violence among people and chaos. Through the crumble of men of neat columns, the soldiers also become careless to an extent that they are not able to have the right moral judgments in their minds. It is therefore clear that Hemmingway was against the war through his way of bringing out the consequences that faced those who were involved in it.

“But we were never lonely and never afraid when we were together . I know that the night is not the same as the day: that all things are different, that the things of the night cannot be explained in the day, because they do not then exist, and the night can be a dreadful time for lonely people once their loneliness has started” (Hemmingway, p. 266). This explains that Henry and Catherine did not feel lonely when they were together as they felt in the presence of people. The war therefore had created the fear in them so that they felt insecure in the midst of other people
Hemmingway brings out the tensions that were associated with the war in different ways and through the use of different characters.

Henry was one of the characters who was involved in different wars for example Caporetto and afterwards the Retreat of the Caporetto. He had to do his job although he had people who he cared about. The battle also involved different nations and who had different justifications as to why they were fighting each other. Being part of the fighters, Henry had to choose between heeding to the orders and declining them.

It was then that he even tried to run away and then had challenges with the engineer who he later shot dead. There was therefore conflict between different nations and there was also conflict that existed deep inside the persons who were involved in the war. This made most of them become alienated from their loved ones thus making their lives hard. The tide of war was so strong that Hemmingway concluded that unconsciousness was the best way to fight that is through forgetting one’s morals and doing what they thought was best.

Therefore, conflicts created tension to those who were involved in the war and the other citizens since the war was unpredictable as it could become worse any time. Nations were against each other and people’s inner feelings made it hard for them to determine what was right for them to do and that was the reason most opted to retreat though they could not disobey the orders given by their leaders. Hemmingway therefore rejects modern warfare since the results of the tensions created by war have negative impacts on the people involved and the nation as a whole.

Work cited

Hemingway, Ernest. A Farewell to Arms. Harmondsworth, Mddx: Penguin, 1935. Print.

Fussell, Paul, and J M. Winter. The Great War and Modern Memory. , 2013. Print

Simmons, David. The Anti-Hero in the American Novel: From Joseph Heller to Kurt Vonnegut. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. Internet resource.

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