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A Farewell to Arms – Existentialism Essay

Ernest Hemingway’s ‘A Farewell to Arms’ explores notions surrounding both love and war. However it is not a love story, and nor is it a war story. It is a combination of both that allows for Hemingway to discuss what he is truly interested in: Existentialism. Existentialism is a philosophy that developed from the concept that there is no inherent meaning in life. However, we can create meaning.

A Farewell to Arms is an exploration of this, but more than that, it’s an exploration of the reality of this in that; meaning in life doesn’t last forever, and when it’s gone, it leaves us with no logic and no hope, just nothingness. Hemingway uses his protagonist Frederic Henry to support his existentialist views. He does this, firstly by creating meaning in Frederic’s life. Hemingway creates Catherine for him. Their love is only a game at first, Frederic admits “God knows [he] had not wanted to fall in love with anyone.

” However, it becomes so much more than that. Towards the end of the novel, if Catherine isn’t with him he “[hasn’t] a thing in the world”. Hemingway makes a point of foreshadowing this inevitable fact early on, when we are privy to Frederick’s thoughts as he contemplates that “It was a long time since [he] had written to the States and [he] knew [he] should write but [he] had let it go so long that it was almost impossible to write now. ” Throughout the book, the people he associates with; Rinaldi, the men in his regiment, everyone, they all disappear.

Finally, he’s left with Catherine, and their unborn baby. Other than them, he has no one. If they were to leave, he would be left alienated. Hemingway was not interested in the love story, or the war story. He was merely interested in communicating his views on the world to his readers. Predominantly, he was interested in communicating his views on existentialism. He was interested in what he considered to be reality. In reality, people die. In reality, our loved ones leave us, and in reality, when that happens there is no meaning, no logic and no hope.

Hemingway demonstrates this through the climactic, yet painfully dismal ending to his piece. In bringing about the possibility that Catherine, Frederic’s only meaning in life, could die, he creates a springboard for discussing his philosophical views through Frederic. This forces us, as an audience, to contemplate upon his contention; “That was what you did. You died. You did not know what it was about. You never had time to learn. They threw you in and told you the rules and the first time they caught you off base they killed you…

they killed you in the end. You could count on that. ” Hemingway uses his protagonist to establish this, and through Frederic’s reaction to Catherine’s death, he reveals to us the truth within his philosophy. It’s a point that is slowly built up to within A Farewell to Arms, but it’s one that hits Hemingway’s audience with a sounding resonance. The last line to his novel conveys the perfect, dismal imagery of a man with nothing left; a man who has “left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain”.

Throughout the whole novel ‘rain’ has symbolised loss and grief. It leaves a strong impression, making it the final last word of the novel, Frederic having now lost the last thing that made his life worthwhile. Hemingway’s entire novel is a lead up to this one point on existentialism. The world has no inherent meaning. We can create meaning within it, and any meaning that is within it has been created by us. However on the flip side of that, when the meaning that we have created is gone, there is nothing left for us to fall back on.

When that meaning is gone, we’re left staring into an abyss. A Farewell to Arms is not a love story, and it’s not a war story either. It’s a comment upon the actuality of, and the nature of, existentialism as a prevailing philosophy. By creating Frederic and the characters around him, Hemingway demonstrates the logic of this theory, and he shows how when a man loses everything that he has created himself, in his life, in the end there is no more meaning, there is no logic, no hope. In the end, there is really nothing left, but the rain. Kaitlin Cushing.


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