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A Farewell to Arms is a gripping novel that tells the tale of an American soldier, Frederic Henry, in Italy during The Great War who is torn between his duty as an officer and the love of his life, a nurse named Catherine. In the novel, Ernest Hemingway brilliantly uses nature to symbolize and foreshadow certain events in the couple’s difficult journey to escape the war and be with each other. Rain, snow, lakes and rivers all represent either loss, safety, or freedom for the two.
Rain clearly symbolizes loss, death and tragedy in the story. This is established very quickly, as in chapter one Henry states that, “At the start of the winter came the permanent rain and with the rain came cholera … in the end only seven thousand died of it in the army” (4). Right away, the reader should pick up on the symbolism of loss. After Henry falls in love with Catherine, the night he has to leave her to go back to the front there is fog that turns into a cold rain. As the novel progresses, rain foreshadows many other events such as the German offensive and massive Italian retreat, in which many Italian soldiers are killed. It also foreshadows the loss of Henry’s own unit.
The day that Henry and his men are to retreat, Bonello mentions the wine they are drinking and Aymo replies, “To-morrow maybe we drink rainwater” (191). The next day Aymo is actually killed and Henry’s unit falls apart. The big example of rain foreshadowing loss occurs at the end of the story. When Henry and Catherine are at their lodge in the mountains, the night they decide to move to the town for the baby, it starts to rain. Once the baby comes, it rains and Catherine, as well as the child, die. This was clearly indicated as Catherine once said, “I’m afraid of the rain because sometimes I see me dead in it” (126). Rain is definitely one of Hemingway’s most prevalent tools for foreshadowing in this story.
Snow is used in the novel as a symbol for safety and security. It acts as a temporary cease to the fighting and bloodshed, as Henry states, “looking out at the snow falling slowly and heavily, we knew it was all over for that year” (6). It also represents safety when Henry and Catherine are in their home up in the mountains, completely surrounded by snow, where the war would not reach them nor the battle police to arrest Henry. It was because of this
knowledge, how the snow brought an end to the fighting, that many people were hoping it would come once rumors of an enemy offensive were surfacing because snow would make it difficult for the enemy to fight and advance. When Henry returns to the front, the major says, “I don’t believe they will attack now that the rains have started. We will have the snow soon” (165). Because the snow would be coming soon, the Italians didn’t believe that an offensive was coming and were thus caught completely off guard when it did. In that way, snow symbolizes safety in the story.
Symbols for freedom in the novel are natural waterways. Twice, Henry is able to escape war by either a river or a lake. During the retreat, many officers in the Italian army were being blamed for the army’s embarrassment and shot. Henry, being an officer, was pulled to the side and put in a line to be shot. Not allowing himself to be killed, Henry, “ducked down, pushed between two men, and ran for the river”(225). He sprang into the river and was eventually able to get out downstream.
He was then able to find new clothes and was completely free from the army, the river being his liberator. Once reunited with Catherine, they stay at a hotel on a lake. One night he is awoken by the barman who warns Henry that he is going to be arrested in the morning. They quickly conceive a plan for Henry and Catherine to cross the lake to Switzerland; to freedom. All goes well with their plan and the couple are able to escape the country and live well in Switzerland, natural waterways freeing them from trouble for the second time.
Hemingway uses nature perfectly to symbolize and foreshadow events in the story. With a mention of rain, snow, or a river or lake, the reader is able to get an idea of what an event might mean, or what events may occur, whether it be loss, safety, or freedom.