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“A Farewell to Arms” by Ernest Hemingway Essay

Hemingway and the Struggle of Masculinity in WarMen in A Farewell to Arms and For Whom The Bell TollsThe name of Ernest Hemingway has long been associated with the idea of a strong, stubborn man who is very socially inept. In both A Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bell Tolls, we are introduced to an extremely cold, unfeeling character and we see how they evolve from one type of man into another. Frederic Henry and Robert Jordan are both Americans serving overseas in some conflict, Henry being in World War I and Jordan in the Spanish Civil War between the fascists and communists, and they originally see these conflicts as a way for them to prove their manhood. They soon realize that war is not meant for all people and that it should not be glorified. They either die for their new ideas or simply vanish from our world into a realm of nothingness. This transition needs to be analysed more closely in order for us to understand it better.

In A Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bell Tolls, we see how the main character is, in the beginning, a cold and sometimes insensitive person who loves the idea of war. In Arms, we see how Henry is a calm, calculating man who tries to live up to the Western impression of how a man should act. In American history, men have tried to reassociate themselves with a deeper meaning of manhood as a way to prove to themselves that they are acting like a man should: “A broad spectrum of American men soon came to view war as the only way to cure a hopelessly flagging national masculinity”(Donnell para 35). In the beginning, Henry the confidence of a man who is able to survive anything by himself and not show any emotion about it.

War itself is a glorious game to him that is a test of manhood, a way for him to prove himself to the world and still be able to walk away from it: “Well, I knew I would not be killed. Not in this war. It did not have anything to do with me. It seemed no more dangerous to me than war in the movies” (Arms Detzler 237). Henry is a man who thinks that he is unable to be harmed and tries to live a life that is morally correct while struggling through a chaotic world. The Austrian mountains around Henry are full of temptation(ie bawdy houses) and yet he never visits them. Also, he is surrounded by constant barrages of shellfire and wounded, since he is an ambulance driver, and never shows any emotion towards these men. To him, they are simply chess pieces and he is the ambulance that comes to take away the wounded from this great game.

In Tolls, the main character is an American teacher, Robert Jordan, who is fighting in the Spanish Civil War. He is only in the mountains because he sees war as a glorified game for men only. When he is confronted with a task, such as blowing up a bridge to slow down enemy troop movements, he does not think about it and only focusses on what he needs to do: “He would not think about that. That was not his business. That was Golz’s business. He had only one thing to do and that was what he should think about and he must think clearly and take everything as it came along, and not worry. To worry was as bad as to be afraid. It simply made things more difficult”(Tolls 8). He distances himself from the men he may have to kill and dehumanises his actions, allowing him to succeed at his job without showing any emotion or weakness.

Jordan sees war as a man’s job and that women have no place in it. When he first meets Maria, he tries to hide his feelings for her. He says that she should not be in the mountains with the guerillas and tries to hide how he feels an attraction to her when he looks at her. Jordan sees his emotions as a weakness and buries them deep down inside of himself, only to have them rise up later on in the novel. In conclusion, both Henry and Jordan begin as calm, cool, calculating men struggling to prove to the world who they are. These men live by a strict code of honour, chivalry, honesty, and courage, allowing their soul to survive many tough times. They originally see a war as a way to prove themselves but this soon changes.

Detzler 3Towards the middle of both Arms and Tolls, we see how both Jordan and Henry become confused and disoriented by the events around them. They are faced with tough choices and are forced to reevaluate their beliefs. In Arms, Henry is wounded during the Italian retreat and is sent back to a hospital for recovery. There, he sees his helplessness as a sign of his weakness and feels that he should not have been hurt. After recovery, he returns to the front but becomes trapped with few other men from his battle group. After the men refused to help him in their struggle to make it back, Henry shoots them at point blank range in an effort to encourage the men to work harder. After this, Henry himself is almost executed after being mistaken for an Austrian.

His near-death experience during his escape caused him to reassess his beliefs because he is beginning to see that men are not meant to try and slaughter each other. He flees the army and gives in to his desires to see Catherine, a sign that he is going back on his belief that a man should never show any emotion. Henry travels to Switzerland with Catherine and tries to live out a normal life there, but now he is a confused man struggling with internal demons about his actions: “The war seemed as far away as the football games of some one else’s college. But I knew from the papers that they were still fighting in the mountains. . . .” (Arms 277). Henry still remembers the men that he left behind at the lines and still wishes to be with them, fighting against a common enemy and united through courage, bravery, and the desire to stay alive.

In Tolls, Jordan struggles with his ideas of courage and bravery as he is faced with various situations leading up to the destruction of the bridge. At different times, he is tested by other men, such as when he is forced to kill an enemy soldier who is actually just a boy. This action causes Jordan to rethink how war should be fought: should it be a cruel, merciless battle between soldiers and civilians, or should the young and innocent be spared, even if it is a sign of weakness. Also, when El Sordo and his men are trapped by the Fascist Army, they are left alone Detzler 4to fend for themselves, as to not expose the revolutionaries true numbers. Jordan wishes to go and help them because they are his comrades, but if he is to that, then he would be killed because of what some would call courage and what others would call stupidity.

He is faced with either death or living a life of shame. El Sordo himself thinks the same as Jordan, wanting to die a glorious death since he knows that he should want to run away from the Fascists: “Dying was nothing and he had no picture of it nor fear of it in his mind. . . . Living was a hawk in the sky. Livng was an earthen jar of water in the dust of the threshing with the grain flailed out and the chaff blowing.” (Tolls 313). El Sordo does not fear death because he accepts that it is an inevitable part of life. Both Henry and Jordan begin to have second thoughts of their long held beliefs that men should be cold, merciless soldiers and start to wonder if their new ideas about wanting to be afraid are the ones they should listen to guide their lives.

At the end of the novels, both Henry and Jordan face death, either directly or indirectly caused by war, and try to cope with it. In Arms, Henry is faced with the death of his wife and child in Switzerland. During child birth, Catherine develops complications and needs to be heavily medicated to numb the pain. Their child is still-born and Catherine soon after dies from massive blood loss. The loss of Henry’s wife forces him to think about how he has lived his life. He begins to wonder if it was worth it shooting those men for refusing to help him. He questions if he should have even joined the army in the first place. Henry even begins to think that perhaps the war is not some game and that even the innocent can be affected by it. He simply retreats back into his own thoughts because he cannot face the world anymore.

Henry displays such self control that it cannot be healthy. He is trying to not show any weakness, an idea that he has always held to be true, even though he does not want to glorify war anymore: “Such illustrious-control is a visible expression of the self-discipline, knowledge, skill, and poise a man must Detzler 5achieve-as well as the honesty, courage, persistence, and stoic endurance he must possess in order to confront the vicissitudes of his life and the inevitability of . . . death on his own terms and with honour” (Miles para 9). Henry develops a strong resolution towards death and does not feel anymore that war, a vast death machine, should be promoted since it can hurt even the most innocent people in the world, such as unborn children. He then proceed to vanish from this world and become like a walking zombie, unable to move on with his life but unafraid of anything anymore that might threaten him since he has already lost what is most precious to him.

In Arms, Jordan is faced with death at the end of the novel in many different ways. His friend Anselmo is killed during the bridge demolition while trying to protect Jordan. Anselmo himself did not like death but was willing to face God if it meant the completion of Jordan’s task. Jordan himself is gravely injured while trying to flee from the Fascists and resolves to take out as many as he can before he dies. Jordan does not show any weakness towards his friends, even though he is terrified and wants to run. Jordan changes from seeing death as something far away as something that affects everyone. It is a chance for Jordan to redeem his past life and try to come to grips with how he sees death and war. He realizes that he has lived his life wrong and that the war that he is fighting in is not the one he thought he would be fighting for.

Jordan originally thought that he was fighting to save the Spanish people from the Fascists but he eventually realized he was not fighting to save the people but rather to replace one corrupt leader for another. He then comes to accept that he will die soon and waits for his time on Earth to end, hoping to take an enemy with him when he goes:Dying is only bad when it takes a long time and hurts so much that it humilates you. . . . [T]here is something you can do yet. As long as you know what it is you have to do it. As long as you remember what it is you have to wait for that. Come on. Let them come. Let them come. Detzler 6Let them come! . . . And if if you wait and hold them up even a little while or just get the officer that may make all the difference” (Tolls 468-470).

To Jordan, death is an inevitable part of life and now he is dedicated to taking someone down with him. His part in war is over forever but he does not want to just fade away. He understands that war is glorious but if the next man is an enemy, that man is marked for death. Therefore, both Henry and Jordan come to understand death better and to know that war is not a glorious event. War is simply a big political game with the small people taking most of the fall.

In conclusion, we see how both Henry and Jordan have changes brought about to their perceptions of war. They originally join their cause simply because it is something that all men were doing at that point in life. War was someplace that boys could go and become men. War was some far off land where men would run towards each other twice, shake hands and become friends again. Henry and Jordan soon see that war is nothing like this, with innocent people being killed simply because they are in the wrong place at the wrong time. Both men evolve from their original selves and change their ideas about life and death. Henry and Jordan lose a part of themselves during their battles, becoming better men in the end. They may be alone in the world but they are better men than they originally were: “[T]he individual is on his own, like a Pilgrim walking into the unknown with neither shelter or guidance, thrown upon his own resources, his strength, and his judgement.

Hemingway’s style is the style of understatement since his hero is a hero of action, which is the human conditon” (Hallengren para 17) These men, even though sometimes shallow, exhibit many qualities that both genders should live up to: honesty, courage bravery, morality, intelligence, affection, pride and sometimes sentimentality. These are the qualities that allow the two main characters to see through the “fog of war” and come to the basic conclusion: war is not meant for all people to be involved in and it should not Detzler 7be put up on a pedestal but rather looked upon with a logical mind. Even though peace is a lofty goal, it is very unlikely for humanity to succeed in achieving world peace. Until that day, war will be an everyday aspect to our lives and we need to step back and take another look at it. We need to stop viewing war as a big game and see it as a big political game, one that is not meant to help the little people, just like Henry and Jordan learned.

Works Cited

Donnel, Sean M.. Hemingway’s Short Fiction and the Crisis of Middle Class Masculinity. [Online] Available http://www.elcamino.edu/Faculty/sdonnell/hemingway’s_ masculinity.htm , May 12, 2006.

Hallengren, Anders. A Case of Identity: Ernest Hemingway. [Online] Available http://nobelprize.org/literature/articles/hallengren/index.html , April 21, 2006.

Hemingway, Ernest. A Farewell to Arms. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons Publishing Company, 1957.

– – – – . For Whom the Bell Tolls. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons Publishing Company, 1968.

Miles, Melvin C.. An Introductory Overview to Hemingway. [Online] Available http://www.elcamino.edu/Faculty/sdonnell/hemingway.htm , May 10, 2006.


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