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Farewell to Arms: War's Grip on Ordinary PeopleEssay

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¶ … Farewell to Arms

"the Old Lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori"

Since this poem actually is saying, "The Old Lie: Sweet and fitting it is to die for the fatherland," this is not a poem or a thought that Frederic Henry would have agreed with. The Latin part of the poem one can imagine was spoken by Roman soldiers when they fought on battlefields far from home, "…to die for the fatherland," but it doesn't sound like something that Henry would be saying or agreeing with. Henry is something of a party boy in the early part of the novel and doesn't seem very involved in the emotion of the war. Incredibly he seems almost unaware of the significance of the carnage around him, so he certainly couldn't be identified with the concept of dying for the fatherland. Henry's sense of the war and his consciousness grows with time but at the outset of the novel he is a selfish young man, with a big ego. Readers know all about Henry's attitudes and thoughts because he is the protagonist and the narrator. On page 37 his arrogant approach to his situation comes clear: "Well, I knew I would not be killed. Not in this war. It did not have anything to do with me. It seemed no more dangerous to me myself than war in the movies." Does that sound like a man who is willing to die for the "fatherland"? Not at all.

Because Henry doesn't seem to care much about anything at the beginning stages of novel he clearly doesn't care about Catherine at this point though he asks for a kiss from her. They do kiss but she made it a quick one because she apparently knows that he is not sincerely in love with her. On page 32 he says he "liked to watch her move…she went down the hall. I went home. It was a hot night and there was a good deal going on up in the mountains" (Hemingway, 32). So, the author here is creating a character who finds the walking style of the woman he is dating on the same level as the flashes in the sky in the distance. He appears to be a non-thinking, non-involved piece of the puzzle in the war. Not someone who is willing to die for the fatherland for sure.

On his leave from driving the ambulance, the priest offers to have Henry come and stay with him to the mountains were it was cool and away from the war, Henry chooses to go "…to the smoke of cares and nights when the room whirled and you needed to look at the wall…drunk…all and all not caring…" (in other words he shows how shallow he is because he'd rather get drunk than enjoy the company of a friend in a safe place (Hemingway, 13). When he is injured and in the hospital, the only meaningful thing he finds to read are baseball scores -- not the act of a man who is willing to die for the fatherland at all.

Question Two: Consider the seasons

The seasons and the events that occur during the seasons make up a big part of the tone and theme of Hemingway's novel. Early in the book the reader gets a taste of what is to come when the weather is linked to certain activities. "At the start of the winter came the permanent rain and with the rain came the cholera," Hemingway writes on page 4. And then the next sentence sets a dismal tone for the bloodshed and madness that is to follow: "But it (the cholera) was checked and in the end only seven thousand died of it in the army" (4).

In the passage mentioned in the paragraph above, Lieutenant Henry is offered a mountain retreat where it is cold, clear, dry and there is no violence; but he instead goes where it is smoky and hot (Hemingway, 13). The weather along with the seasons impacts the characters and the plot as the book moves forward.

After he is wounded, Henry is viewed by the reader as a man becoming more sincere and more mature. It is obvious that he realizes that Catherine is someone he should care about instead of seeing love as a game. This fundamental change comes over him in the summer that he spends with Catherine while he is healing. Summer is a key time in this novel; Henry has deserted the army, and instead of getting drunk and having sex with hookers, he is having a love affair, which heals a broken man and makes a better man out of a shallow one. It's like summer has made him loyal to Catherine rather than with the Italian army.

Given that the love was sealed pretty solidly in the summer, by the fall of that year the two have actually moved into a house together. A few days before Christmas that year, the snow falls, and Henry is asked by Catherine if he still feels restless and he says he does not; he agrees to grow a beard and it is full by the middle of January. Is the January beard a symbol of Henry's onrushing maturity and sincerity -- that may be the case in this part of the novel.

When rain falls in this novel something untoward is either happening or about to happen. "In the fall when the rains came the leaves all fell from the chestnut trees and the branches were bard and the trunks black with rain," Hemingway, through his narrator Henry, writes in the first chapter. "…Black with rain" (4) certainly sounds like death; in fact rain often signals death in the book while on the other hand snow seems to symbolize security and safety. "The vineyards were thin and bare-branched too and all the country wet and brown and dead with autumn" (in this line from the first chapter Hemingway actually uses the word "dead" -- avoiding a metaphor and coming right out and telling the reader about death; given that this is a war story, the description fits in perfectly.

In the chapter called "The Dignity of the Iceberg," the narrator points out (using seasonal changes and bleak imagery) that the oak forest had been destroyed on the mountain, but that forest "…had been green in the summer…but now there were the stumps and the broken trunks and the ground torn up, and one day at the end of the fall when I was out where the oak forest had been I saw a cloud coming over the mountain…the sun went a dull yellow and then everything was grey and the sky was covered" (9).

But then, as was mentioned earlier in this section, snow has a healing, purifying effect. The cloud that came suddenly down on the mountain and "…it was snow…the bare ground was covered," and in order to bring a reminder of the death that cannot be covered up by the purifying snow, "… the stumps of trees projected, there was snow on the guns and there were paths in the snow going back to the latrines behind the trenches" (9). It was like the stumps had become skeletons or tombstones because the forest was destroyed

The safety of the priest's home (in the Abruzzi region) is shown; it was a place "…where the roads were frozen and hard as iron, where it was clear and cold and dry and the snow was dry and powdery." When Henry and Catherine are in the Swiss Alps, again the snow (the winter season) brings the theme of purity and escape from the carnage of war while the mountains seem to be symbols of peacefulness and purity.

Question Three: To his Coy Mistress

Catherine is feeling somewhat guilty because she is sleeping with a man who is not her husband and then he quotes a famous poem apparently about a woman who is not sexually available for (a man) the poet. Maybe Henry didn't really understand that the poem was about a woman not in the market for intimacy; there are many things in the novel that Henry is not smart about and this could be one of those moments. But in any event it was an ironic moment because the two had been lovers for some time in the novel. On the other hand, Hemingway's use of "To his Coy Mistress" has a purposed in illustrating the relationship between Henry and Catherine:

"We have such a fine time…I don't take any interest in anything else any more. I'm so very happy married to you," Catherine said, illustrating her deep love while the two were in a restaurant. When the waiter came and cleared the table, the two were "very still and we could hear the rain. Down below on the street a motor car honked. 'But at my back I always hear Time's winged chariot hurrying near' I said. 'I… [END OF PREVIEW]

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