Hemingway bases most of his books on events that he has experienced. Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms is a book about war, identity, and individualism. His style of using in media res, character, and dialogue, and how he splits the book into five parts, changes the way readers interpret the book. Ernest Hemingway lived through World War I and World War II. During World War I, Hemingway wanted to join the American army, but he was not accepted into it because of his eye sight.
Since he wanted to help in the war effort, he moved to Italy to become a Red Cross ambulance driver. During this time, he was severely injured in the legs by enemy mortar fragments. His time in Italy influenced much of his book, A Farewell to Arms. War is a reoccurring theme in the novel. The main character Frederic realizes more and more of how bad war really is throughout the story. One critic, Schneider, said, “War is not glamorized… Instead, it is presented in a very real and horrifying fashion from the perspective of the ambulance driver” (Telgen 179).
In the book Hemingway wrote, “I wiped my hand on my shirt and another floating light came very slowly down and I looked at my leg and was very afraid” (Hemingway 56). At this point in the novel, Frederic starts to realize the realities of war. Another critic, Markley, said, “It’s still a game to him” (Bloom 174). Near the middle of the book, Frederic and his fellow soldiers retreat from Caporetto. It this section, Frederic is fully awakened to the horrors of war, and sees it in a completely different way. Identity plays a big role in Frederic’s character.
According to Schneider, “Frederic’s identity is displaced by the late introduction of his name to the reader, the fact of his being an American in the Italian Army, and his constant play with words” (Telgen 177). In the novel, the narrator, Frederic, is not introduced until the fourth chapter, and the jokes he tries to make in the story don’t translate well into Italian. This shows how Frederic’s identity sticks out compared to the rest of the soldiers. Another critic, Waldhorn, said, “Frederic Henry absorbs what others teach, then acts at last on his own resolve.
His situation is again different, however, for he has no wholly exemplary male figure before him. ” (Waldhorn 118). Throughout the novel, Rinaldi influences Frederic until the climax. Rinaldi is the one who introduced him to Catherine, and along with Catherine, he was the one that was there for him when he was injured. At the climax, Frederic doesn’t listen to Rinaldi, and deserts the army for Catherine. This shows that Frederic’s identity became clearer throughout the novel. He ends up doing what he feels is the right thing to do.
Individualism is shown mostly by Rinaldi, a surgeon and a friend of Frederic. Schneider said, “For example, Rinaldi has the satisfaction of having become a better surgeon through practice. He is also better with women for the same reason. ” (Telgen 178). In the novel, Frederic says that there is more to life than women and being a surgeon, Rinaldi says, “Go to hell” (Hemingway 13). This shows that those two things are very important to Rinaldi, and that he doesn’t like it when others say bad things about it. Hemingway opens the story in the middle of World War I.
According to Markley, “A Farewell to Arms opens in media res – literally, in the middle of the thing” (Broom 172). In the beginning paragraph of A Farewell to Arms, it says, In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels. Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees.
The trunks of the trees too were dusty and the leave fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and afterward the road bare and white except for the leaves. (Hemingway 3) In this paragraph, Hemingway describes the setting of the book, and starts off the book in the middle of World War I. Hemingway bases his characters from his experiences. According to Waldhorn, “What is perhaps most remarkable is the absolute trust Frederic inspires in his reliability as a narrator.
Never again in a novel would Hemingway maintain the precisely appropriate distance between himself and a hero so like him. A perfect apprentice, Frederic blends admirably the familiar traits of the hurt, uprooted young man who must… learn ‘how to live in it’” (Waldhorn 116). In the novel, the characterization of Frederic only reveals his thoughts and emotions. This style allows the reader to have their own thoughts on what Frederic looks like. Hemingway uses short and direct dialogue to tell the story.
Another critic, Graham, said, “They are active, direct and, one might argue, uncomplicated people with an almost fatalistic acceptance of life… There is nothing new to learn: even with the various cases, the characters simply observe… While they seem to understand what they do and what goes on about them, they never seem to assimilate the knowledge” (Bender 19). In the novel, the length of the dialogue between the characters varies very little. This style of writing allows readers to have their own thoughts on what’s happening, not Hemingway’s, when reading, because readers interpret what the characters say in different ways.
The form of the novel is broken up into five parts. Waldhorn said, “In large measure, Hemingway achieves his effect by correspondences. Each of the five paragraphs of the opening chapter, for example, is roughly proportional in length to each of the five books of the novel, and the pace anticipates the cadence of the novel as a whole” (Waldhorn 117). In the novel, the five parts are divided to represent the introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, and conclusion. This set-up of the novel is like an English five-act play.
Book one introduces the characters and situation; book two develops a romantic plot; book three is the climax, when Frederic deserts the army for Catherine; book four makes it seem as though Frederic and Catherine have successfully escaped the war; and book five is the tragic ending when Catherine dies. In conclusion, A Farewell to Arms is a book about war, identity, and individualism. His style of using in media res, character, and dialogue change the way readers interpret the book. Also, the five book structure of this novel splits the book similar to an English five act play.
All of these factors plus parts of Hemingway’s life contribute to the final product, and play a big role in how the reader reads and interprets the content. Bibliography Bender, David, ed. Readings on Ernest Hemingway. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1997. Bloom, Harold. Modern Critical Views of Ernest Hemingway. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1985. Oliver, Charles. Critical Companion to Ernest Hemingway. New York: Facts on File, Inc, 2007. Telgen, Diane, ed. Novels for Students. Detroit: Gale Research, 1997. Waldhorn, Arthur, ed. Ernest Hemingway. New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc, 1972.