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Literature / A Farewell to Arms

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Ernest Hemingway's second novel, written in first-person narration, published in 1929, and semi-autobiographical.

Frederic Henry, a volunteer American ambulance driver, serves in Italy during World War I. Whilst abroad, he meets British nurse Catherine Barkley and becomes attracted to her. He gets a chance to consummate his attraction to her after being wounded at the front and shipped back to hospital. By the end of the summer, Catherine is three months pregnant. Once healed, Frederic returns to the front just in time for it to collapse and the Austro-Hungarians to come pouring through; he, like the other officers, are rounded up by the "battle police" to be executed for the defeat. Frederic escapes through some quick badassery and reunites with Catherine, whereupon the two escape to Switzerland in a rowboat. There they maintain an isolated but idyllic existence until Catherine goes into labor. The baby is stillborn. Catherine hemorrhages and dies. The end.

Hemingway was not a happy man.

Besides many characters being based on people the author knew, this novel is useful to Hemingway scholars as it provides the first incarnations of the famed Hemingway "code hero". Main Characters in Hemingway novels would continue in this vein throughout most of his body of work.

The novel is considered one of the great classics of American fiction, and chances are that if you attended an American high school, you read it there. (This just highlights one of the downsides of Hemingway's "iceberg theory" of fiction: it relies on Subtext, which, depending on your age and/or maturity level, you might not get.)

The novel has been adapted for film and television several times. The 1932 version, directed by Frank Borzage and starring Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes, was nominated for Best Picture and won an Academy Award for cinematography. A 1957 version was directed by Charles Vidor and starred Rock Hudson and Jennifer Jones.

The book's copyright will expire on January 1st, 2025, at which point it will enter the Public Domain.

Tropes featured in A Farewell to Arms include:

  • Accent Interest: The general paranoia and chaos during the Italian army's retreat has people believing that Austrian agents have infiltrated the army. Frederic is arrested as a spy because he speaks Italian with an accent—as does the military policeman arresting him (as he points out to no avail) as most Italians were more familiar with their local dialect.
  • The Alcoholic: Fredreric drinks a lot.
  • Arc Symbol: The frequent use of rain throughout the novel. Such as Catherine saying she's "afraid of the rain because sometimes I see me dead in it," and of course, it's a rainy day when the ending happens.
  • Beige Prose: Hemingway's Signature Style of using as few words as possible to describe something is in full display here. This novel is arguably the Trope Codifier for Hemingway's distinctive bare-bones style of narration. Hemingway's narration is also considered to be highly effective here.
  • Book Ends: Rain and death
  • Border Crossing: Frederic and Catherine escaping to Switzerland in the end of the novel. They cross the border by boat, but are soon captured by Swiss police and taken to the station.
  • Broken Ace: Frederic Henry is probably one of the most straightforward examples of The Ace in Hemingway's bibliography, bordering on Testosterone Poisoning, yet he still can't find happiness after he leaves the war behind, as symbolized by the major Downer Ending of Catherine and his child's death.
  • Court-martialed: The fate of Frederic and other officers for losing their troops; they're assumed to be deserters and sentenced to death on the spot.
  • Crapsack World: Pretty much the book's viewpoint, as mentioned in the quote below:
    The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.
  • Death by Childbirth: Catherine hemorrhages to death after she loses the baby.
  • The Disease That Shall Not Be Named: Subverted, kind of. It's suspected that Rinaldi has contracted syphilis.
  • Downer Ending: Frederic loses both his love and his child at the end.
  • Florence Nightingale Effect: Catherine falls for Frederic as she treats him.
  • Important Haircut: Frederic letting his beard grow during his idyll in Switzerland.
  • Kangaroo Court: The drumhead court martial Italian military policemen held to judge officers who were behind their troops was this; in one case, the officer was just insulted before being shot. Frederic barely missed execution.
  • Lovable Sex Maniac: Rinaldi
  • Second Love: Catherine had a former fiance that died.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Frederic naturally takes offense at being arbitrarily sentenced to death and decides to desert the Italian army.
  • Sickeningly Sweethearts: Frederic and Catherine are pretty annoying.
    Catherine: Your temperature's always normal. You've such a lovely temperature.
    Frederic: You've got a lovely everything.
    Catherine: Oh, no. You have the lovely temperature. I'm awfully proud of your temperature.
    Frederic: Maybe all our children will have fine temperatures.
  • The Stoic: Frederic Henry is one, relates to the world in a largely physical manner, he has trouble not being a Jerkass sometimes, and his thoughts revolve around girls and drink.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Frederic can only assume this is why Catherine and their child have died.
    The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.
  • Too Happy to Live: Frederic and Catherine have such a bright future together, until she dies at the end.
  • Train Escape: Frederic escapes execution on one.
  • Undignified Death: The Red Shirt mechanic who dies when Henry is injured in the beginning of the book. Blown apart while eating cheese.
  • Verbal Tic/Catchphrase: Rinaldi always calls Henry "baby"
  • War Is Glorious: Utterly averted. Although there are numerous moments throughout the book that serve to mock the idea, the one that takes the cake has to be when Henry risks his life to get some cheese to eat with his pasta, and then is subsequently nearly blown to pieces along with the rest of his mechanics while eating it.
  • War Is Hell: Despite Hemingway's reputation as the quintessential Rated M for Manly writer, here he depicts war as long stretches of boredom intermingled with short periods of utter terror, with the only positive aspect being the male camarederie on display. There is also Frederic and the other officers being targeted for execution when the Italian army is in retreat. In fact, the only "cool" action scenes happen when Henry decides to leave the army.