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A Farewell to Arms



A Farewell to Arms

 [If The Sun Also Rises was one of the best books I have ever read, then A Farewell to Arms is Truth. I simply cannot believe that these books existed so long without my knowledge of how grand they are. I consider myself to read constantly, more than almost anyone I know, literature and simple, and here in less than a month I read two books that are undoubtedly among the best I have encountered. How many other good books exist that I have yet to read? Am I really a reader? Will I ever finish them all? What will I do if I tire of reading?] When I finished FTA I was of course stunned by the death of Catherine and the baby and Henry's sudden solitude. 'What happens now?' I felt, as I so often do when I finish a book that I want to go on forever. This is infinitely more difficult with a book that has no conclusion, and FTA leaves a reader not only emotionally exhausted but also just as alone as Henry and with nowhere to go. The entire work was aware of where it was going and what was going to happen next, and then to stop the way it did was unfair. Now, I've read enough essays while deciding which would be the topic for my class presentation that I know many people see that the unfairness of life and the insignificance of our free will are apparently the most important themes in the book, but I don't agree. I also don't agree that it is a war story or a love story. Exactly what it is, though, is not clear to me. Can't art exist without being anything? 'There isn't always an explanation for everything.' War and love are obviously important themes in the book, and the relationship between the two is explored by Hemingway and, somewhat, by Henry. In the first two Books we are in the war and the war is overwhelming. In the last two Books we are in love. And, just as the first two Books are peppered with love in the time of war, the last two Books are tinged with war in the time of love. The third Book is the bridge between the two 'stories' and it is not surprising that it centers on the escape. It is during the escape that Henry resolves that he is through with the war (a war in which he really has no place) and decides that all he wants is to be with Catherine. Until the third Book Henry doesn't seem to be agonizingly concerned with matters of right or wrong in the war and it seems, in fact, separate from him. Even when he is injured it doesn't appear that he is really a part of the war which surrounds him. He maintains a distance from it and this distance isn't really closed until Aymo is killed by his own army, he discovers that Bonello is only staying with him out of respect, and he is almost killed as a spy. After this he resolves to desert the army and be reunited with his love, Catherine. Henry is no dummy and he could easily tell that everything was not all correct with Cat, which leads to the question of his love for her. You must admit that Cat is a bitwell flaky when they first meet. She loses that persona soon enough, although I couldn't help but distrust her integrity until somewhere in the middle of the fourth Book. It is also difficult to believe wholeheartedly in his love for her until much later in their relationship, and it leaves me wondering if he is leaving his involvement in the war because of his unfailing love for Cat or if Cat and any feelings he has for her are just excuses to escape the insanity of the war he experiences in the third Book. When he is with Catherine, they are in another place, untouched by the war, both symbolically (in the tent of her hair) and literally (in Switzerland). [It seems like I don't ever say anything earth-shattering, or even critical, in these response papers, and I'm not sure if I'm supposed to do that. The line, 'The war seemed as far away as the football games of some one else's college,' is beautiful.]


John Stubbs' 'Love and Role Playing in A Farewell to Arms' John Stubbs' essay is an examination of the defense which he believes Henry and Catherine use to protect themselves from the discovery of their insignificance and 'powerlessnessin a world indifferent to their well being' He asserts that 'role-playing' by the two main characters, and several others in the book, is a way to escape the realization of human mortality which is unveiled by war. Stubbs thinks that Hemingway utilized role-playing as a way to 'explore the strengths and weaknesses of his two characters.' Stubbs says that by placing Henry's ordered life in opposition to Catherine's topsy-turvy one, and then letting each one assume a role which will bring them closer together, Hemingway shows the pair's inability to accept 'the hard, gratuitous quality of life.' Stubbs begins by showing other examples, notably in In Our Time and The Sun Also Rises, in which Hemingway's characters revert to role-playing in order to escape or retreat from their lives. The ability to create characters who play roles, he says, either to 'maintain self-esteem' or to escape, is one Hemingway exploits extraordinarily well in A Farewell to Arms and therefore it 'is his richest and most successful handling of human beings trying to come to terms with their vulnerability.' As far as Stubbs is concerned, Hemingway is quite blatant in letting us know that role-playing is what is occurring. He tells that the role-playing begins during Henry and Catherine's third encounter, when Catherine directly dictates what is spoken by Henry. After this meeting the two become increasingly comfortable with their roles and easily adopt them whenever the other is nearby. This is apparent also in that they can only successfully play their roles when they are in private and any disturbance causes the 'game' to be disrupted. The intrusion of the outside world in any form makes their role-playing impossible, as evidenced at the race track in Milan, where they must be alone. The people surrounding them make Catherine feel uncomfortable and Henry has to take her away from the crowd. He goes on to describe how it is impossible for them to play the roles when they are apart and how they therefore become more dependent upon each other's company. Stubbs goes on to explain how, 'neither mistakes role-playing for a truly intimate relationship, but both recognize that it can be a useful device for satisfying certain emotional needs.' He says that originally Henry and Catherine are playing the 'game' for different reasons but eventually move to play it as a team. Henry is role-playing to regain the sense of order he has lost when he realizes the futility of the war and his lack of place in it. Catherine is role-playing to deal with the loss of her fiance and to try to find order in the arena of the war. When they are able to role-play together, 'the promise of mutual support' is what becomes so important to them as they try to cope with their individual human vulnerability. He also analyzes the idyllic world introduced early in the story by the priest at the mess and later realized by Henry and Catherine in Switzerland. They fall fully into their roles when they row across the lake on their way to their idealized world. The fact that they actually are able to enter this make-believe world strengthens their 'game' and allows it to continue longer than it would have otherwise. And once they are in this new world they adopt new roles which allow them to continue their ruse. They also need to work harder to maintain the 'game' because far from the front they are both still aware the war is proceeding and they are no longer a part of it. The world in which they exist in reality (!) is not conducive to role-playing because it tries repeatedly to end their 'game'. Stubbs manages to uncover numerous instances in which the two are role-playing and he makes a very interesting case that this is exactly what they are doing and not just his imagination reading into the story. He does make certain assumptions, that their love is not 'real', that the characters are searching for order, which are not completely justified or even necessary to prove his point. He also forces an intentionality upon Hemingway which could have been avoided without harming his theory. Towards the end of the essay Stubbs infers that their role-playing is 'inferior to true intimacy,' which is a point that, although he defends well, is not central to his theory and seems to detract from his objectivity. The essay is a valuable tool to help the reader understand this view of what is happening through Henry and Catherine's relationship and how they use each other to maintain their self-images, provide themselves with psychological support, and in a way escape the war. Hemingway may not have been trying to purposely create a role-playing scenario, but Stubbs' essay will benefit someone wishing to explore this aspect of the relationship of the two main characters in greater depth. Bibliography: Bruccoli, Matthew J. and Clark, C.E. Frazer (ed.), Fitzgerald / Hemingway Annual 1973, pp. 271-284, Microcard Editions Books, Washington, D.C., 1974




A Farewell to Arms The overall tone of the book is much different than that of The Sun Also Rises. The characters in the book are propelled by outside forces, in this case WWI, where the characters in SAR seemed to have no direction. Frederick's actions are determined by his position until he deserts the army. Floating down the river with barely a hold on a piece of wood his life, he abandons everything except Catherine and lets the river take him to a new life that becomes increasing difficult to understand. The escape to Switzerland seemed too perfect for a book that set a tone of ugliness in the world that was only dotted with pure love like Henry's and Cat's and I knew the story couldn't end with bliss in the slopes of Montreux. In a world where the abstracts of glory, honor, and sacrifice meant little to Frederick, his physical association with Catherine was the only thing he had and it was taken away from him long before she died. The love that Frederick and Catherine had for each other was more than could be explained in words and Frederick makes it known that words are not really effective at describing the flesh and blood details. Their love during an ugly war was not to be recreated or modeled even as much as through a baby conceived by their love. The baby could not be born alive because their love was beautiful yet doomed so that nothing could come out of it. Hemingway's language is effective in leaving much to the readers interpretation and allowing a different image to form in each readers mind. The simple sentences and incomplete descriptions frees your imagination and inspires each person to develop their own bitter love story.










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