Ernest Hemingway's classic novel, A Farewell to Arms, is one of the greatest love and war stories of all time. The success and authenticity of this tale is a direct result of Hemingway's World War I involvement. The main character, Frederick Henry, encounters many of the same things as did Hemingway and creates a parallel between the author and character. Ernest Hemingway was born in Oak Park, Illinois, July 21, 1899. He was a very handsome, athletic, adventurous young man. When the United States declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917, Hemingway tried to enlist in the army.
He was rejected due to an eye injury that he sustained during his high school football career. Hemingway's bold, daring, personality and determination landed him a job as a Second Lieutenant ambulance driver of the American Red Cross during World War I. Hemingway arrived in Milan April of 1918. On his first day, he and his fellow drivers were rudely awaken to the total devastation of the war when they had to remove the parts of dead or severely injured victims of a munition factory explosion. This, as well as later experiences in Fossalta, Italy, makes for a very believable novel.
Frederick Henry was, like Hemingway, an American lieutenant who drove ambulances in Italy during World War I. He was badly injured by a mortar shell explosion and was taken to a hospital in Milan where he fell madly in love with an English nurse. The young nurse, Catherine Barkley, and he go on to have an almost fairy-tale type of relationship. Hemingway's World War I experience varies only slightly from that of Frederick Henry. One night while stationed in Fossalta, Hemingway rode his bicycle, while dodging the Austrian's crossfire, to bring chocolate and cigarettes to his friends in a nearby trench.
Soon after he arrived at the trench, the Austrian's launched a five-gallon canister filled with scrap metal. Many of the Italians in the trench were badly injured. While trying to rescue one of the victims, a machine gun shot tore through Hemingway's leg. He fell, but he managed to get back up, and hobble with the other man to safety. The two were taken to a shed filled with dying or already dead people. About two hours later Hemingway was, like Frederick Henry, transported to an emergency medical post in Milan for his leg wound.
It was there that Hemingway fell in love with an American nurse from Washington, D. C. Her name was Sister Agnes Hannah von Kurowsky. She grew fond of young Hemingway, but was discouraged that she was thirty years old and he was only twenty. Nothing ever really became of their mutual attraction. Perhaps Hemingway tried to relive and recreate his love through Catherine and Frederick.
It is obvious that Hemingway created Frederick Henry's character and experiences from his own. Because he endured the very things he writes about the reader is captivated by his detailed, believable story. Hemingway almost "was" and created one of the greatest love and war stories of all time.