A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway, is somewhat of a Romeo and Juliet love story, with a tragic ending. In this novel, Romeo is Frederick Henry and Juliet is Catherine Barkley. Their love affair must survive the everything that is around them during World War I. The setting of this novel is war-torn Italy.
The love between Catherine and Frederick must outlast long separations, life-threatening war situations, and the uncertainty of each other's whereabouts or condition. This is a love story of two people who need each other in a period of chaos. The book A Farewell to Arms is partly autobiographical. Hemingway, like his hero, was a Red Cross ambulance driver on the Italian Front in World War I. Not only was Hemingway wounded in the war, but he also recuperated in a hospital in Italy. During his recuperation, Hemingway had a very romantic liaison with a nurse.
The relationships between the characters in the novel, including doctors, soldiers, etc. , reflect the actual relationships Hemingway had during his stay in Italy, and the plot of the story is historically as well as geographically accurate. Before Ernest Hemingway wrote the book A Farewell to Arms, he was already regarded as a good literary writer, but after the publication of this book he was considered a great one. A Farewell to Arms was Hemingway's first commercial success, selling over 80, 000 copies in the first four months. In this story there are only two main characters, Frederick Henry and Catherine Barkley. Frederick Henry acts as both the narrator and central character in the novel.
The reader is not told so much about Catherine, only what is understood from Frederick's point of view. Catherine acts as a static character in the novel. She has already known love and lost it so she understands that she cannot build her whole life around Frederick. Frederick, on the other hand, is a very dynamic character, and h has to come to grips with many of the principles of life and death that Catherine has already learned. There are few other characters in the book of any significance, but of some small importance are Rinaldi, who is Frederick's best friend on the fighting front, and also the priest in Frederick's company whom he befriends and with whom he has long talks about life. The plot structure of A Farewell to Arms starts out with an introduction to the major characters and with the setting of the war.
Hemingway also introduces the various problems each main character struggles with throughout the novel. Catherine Barkley and Frederick Henry are introduced to each other casually and the reader begins to wonder what will come of the relationship between the two characters. This seems to be the narrative hook in the novel. Following this the reader is told about various scenes of war, and further introduced to Frederick Henry's character. Frederick is then wounded in war and shipped back to the hospital. In the hospital Frederick and Catherine are reunited and the reader sees the development of love between the two characters.
After Frederick's stay in the hospital he is sent back to battle and has to leave Catherine. However, after only a short time back at the front Frederick Henry, seeing the lack of discipline and confusion in the army's retreat at Caporetto, deserts and returns to the stability of his relationship with Catherine. The battle at Caporetto is the climax in the war action part of the novel, but there is still rising action in the love story. Frederick Henry makes a successful escape to Switzerland with Catherine, and all seems to go well for them for a time. A child had been conceived during their affair but during the birth Catherine begins hemorrhaging. She delivers the baby stillborn and soon after dies.
This scene is the climax of the novel. After Catherine dies the book ends very abruptly, leaving very little falling action. In the novel there are two very prominent types of conflict. One is man verses man, which is seen constantly in the battles of the war, and the constant fighting that takes place as a background in the story.
The other type of conflict that we see is man verses himself, which is shown in Frederick's constant struggle within himself. Since we are told of Frederick's thoughts we know constantly of the internal struggle within himself over everything from his love for Catherine to his thoughts during battle in the war. The conflict that Frederick experiences within himself starts at the beginning of the novel and is not resolved until Catherine's death. The theme that Hemingway seems to emphasize throughout the novel is the search for order in a chaotic world.
Hemingway conveys this through Frederick's own personal search during the chaos of World War I. Catherine has found strength within herself to help lead her through life. Frederick sees this in her and wants it also. Through his involvement with Catherine, Frederick slowly begins to find his own inner strength, and as a result his of his affair with Catherine he leaves his previous wild life of prostitutes and drink.
He states in the novel that spending the night with Catherine is better then spending the night in a house of prostitution even though his feelings for her are not deep at that time. He becomes aware of an element of stability in their affair and realizes that the war that he is involved in is too chaotic, so he deserts the Italian soldiers he has been helping. He and Catherine make a life for themselves totally isolated from everything and everyone else. Frederick believes that his life is now completely in order and yet he still seems discontented. He continuously has to convince himself that he has "a fine life," and he has not yet reached Catherine's emotional level that enables her to be perfectly happy in their love and yet not dependent on it for all comfort and support.
He never reaches a place of internal peace until the end of the book when Catherine dies and he realizes that he can not be totally dependent on another for happiness in this life. A Farewell To Arms was a was a well written novel that gives people a whole different perceptive about the people and events of World War I in Italy. The book was not the least bit confusing when it came to the text and was really an enjoyable book to read. This book could be appreciated both by the average high school student or an adult looking for a great book. It had an interesting, moving plot that kept the reader interested in the book, and has been appreciated and read for many years by people of all ages. From reading this book one learns much about Ernest Hemingway himself plus the times and problems of World War I.
This book was a classic in 1929 and is still seems contemporary today.