This passage, in A Farewell to Arms, is located near the end of the novel when Frederic Henry just finds out about the death of his son and assumes that Catherine will also die. Henry’s anecdote about the ants burning on the log is a defining moment in the novel, because it serves as an analogy to the central theme of the novel: the inevitability of death. Ernest Hemingway portrays the idea that death is inescapable by using the war, Catherine’s death, and Henry’s own experiences. The irrationality and disorder of war is similar to the chaos of the ants swarming around the fire and eventually disintegrating.
In the first sentence of the passage the ants frenetically try to flee from the fire only to end up in a worse state. This symbolizes the inevitability of war because even though the ants try to escape their predicament, the fire consumes them- just as war consumes the people involved in it. The first evidence of the brutality of war occurs when Henry is severely wounded by a mortar shell (54). During this incident, Henry, Manera, Passini, Gordini, and Gavuzzi are all eating pasta when they are violently bombed by a mortar shell.
Henry manages to “escape” the incident with only major damage to his knee; however, Passini ends up dying. Passini was just an innocent ambulance driver who was honorably serving his country in a time of war. Inexplicably, Hemingway shows the reader that even Passini could not avoid the war’s violence. There is seemingly no logical rationale to explain why Passini had to die. Shouldn’t Passini have been rewarded for his service, instead of killed? War is an embodiment of disorder and chaos, and there isn’t a reasonable explanation for the death that occurs during war.
Hemingway implies that the only certain thing in war is death. The ants burning to death is just as unexplainable as Passini’s death. It was just another normal day for the ants until Henry decided to put the log into the fire, dooming the ants. Hemingway chooses this moment in the novel to express his view that the deaths that occur during war are often irrational. In the second sentence of the passage, Henry’s attempt to help the ants is an analogy to the futility of Catherine and Henry’s relationship. Henry’s “efforts” to help the ants were inadequate just as were his attempts to help Catherine in the delivery room.
In fact, he causes even more pain in both scenarios. In the end it all boils down to the fact that Catherine’s death was unavoidable no matter how strong their relationship was. At first, Catherine and Henry’s relationship was based on a game of seduction. Catherine tried to relieve the pain she felt from the death of her fiance by substituting him with Henry. Similarly, Henry used Catherine to escape the talk of the war and even resorted to lying to keep their relationship intact, “Do you love me? Yes I do. You know you don’t have to lie to me.
” (30). Despite this early seduction, their relationship does evolve into genuine feelings of affection as the novel progresses. When Henry is severely wounded by the mortar shell, Catherine is the one that spends hours trying to nurse him back to health. Catherine and Henry hoped to have a baby and live happily ever after. However, this was not a fairy tale, because Catherine unexpectedly dies during her pregnancy. Catherine’s death perfectly coincides with the central theme of the novel: the inevitability of death.
Even genuine love can only be temporary because death triumphs all in the end. Henry only decides to only throw a cup of water which was not enough to save the ants and his genuine affection for Catherine was not enough to save her either. The insignificance of the ants’ death provides an accurate comparison to Hemingway’s view that life was meaningless. The ants in Frederic’s story represent people living in the actual world. Their struggle in the flames is no different than the struggles people face. They both desperately try to escape their problems but in the end death consumes them.
In the grand scheme of things their death was meaningless. Henry tries to find meaning in his life through his participation in the war and his love affair with Catherine. Neither of the two worked out for Henry. He makes a “separate peace” with the war by choosing to rid himself of all associations with the war. In addition, his relationship with Catherine ends abruptly with her death. Henry is left with no purpose in his life and is emotionless after Catherine’s death, “It was like saying goodbye to a statue. ” (332).
Henry’s life is again meaningless and the reader can assume that Henry will go on and eventually die. In sentence two of the passage, Henry is not affected by the ants’ death because their lives were meaningless to him, but this is also similar to how the death of one person is meaningless when compared to the entire world. Hemingway conveys the message that life is meaningless because everyone eventually ends up dying, and the world doesn’t stop as a result of it. Why did Ernest Hemingway write A Farewell to Arms?
Like most authors, he comments on a certain aspect of human condition. In A Farewell to Arms, the central theme was the inevitability of death. Hemingway maintains that the one constant in life is death. Sometimes death may seem unfair or illogical; especially if it is the death of a loved one. However, that is just one of life’s natural occurrences and they must be taken in stride. Also, death might be stalled for a while but it is impossible to escape it. In the end everyone has to die and that’s just the way it has to be.
Courtney from Study Moose
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