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Free Study Guide for A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

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OVERALL ANALYSIS

CHARACTER ANALYSIS

Frederic Henry

He is a young man who is not a hero in the conventional sense of the term. He places no premium on values such as duty, honor, glory, and courage. There are many men in the world who prefer death to dishonor, but Henry is not one of them. If, in order to save his life, he should face the shame of having deserted the army, he certainly doesn’t mind doing so. He turns his back to the war, mainly because he feels that it did not concern him. Nor does he mind living off of his family, asking for money to provide him and Catherine a way through in Switzerland. He makes a separate peace for himself but is not totally convinced of it; he still feels like a truant schoolboy. During the war, however, he shows that he has the capacity to think on his feet and to make instant decisions.

The Priest

He distinguishes between lust and love and between sacred and profane love. He advocates the philosophy that love means lack of selfishness, service, and sacrifice. Though the priest is stationed in Gorizia, he does not let the horrors of the war taint his vision. He is happy in his love for his god and nothing touches him there.

Rinaldi

He represents the profane love which is nothing but lust and results in syphilis. He is overworked and though he is an excellent surgeon, he is weighed down by the pressure of working round the clock and throughout the year. He introduces Catherine to Henry and hopes that she will be good to him and for him. It is interesting to note that Henry’s philosophy of life towards the end of the novel is a harmonious mixture of the priest’s and that of Rinaldi’s.

Catherine Barkley

She is hit by the war even before she meets Henry. Her childhood fiancé was blown to pieces and she carried his riding crop as a remembrance. Perhaps that is the reason why she appears overwrought, excitable, and anxiety-ridden when we first meet her. She is, of course, wounded. Unlike her friend Miss Ferguson, she is not overtly religious. For her, LOVE is religion, but its morals are not well defined. She is created by Hemingway as an “ideal woman”: so devoted to her man that she will die in the process of doing anything that he wants.

Miss Helen Ferguson

She is a close friend of Catherine’s. She is shocked by Catherine’s apparent lack of morals but at the same time, is concerned with her safety and well being.



PLOT STRUCTURE ANALYSIS

The plot in this novel is circular: in the beginning of the novel, Henry has no one and at the end, he is alone. The first chapter begins with the reported death of seven thousand soldiers and the last chapter deals with death too. The note of somberness created in the first chapter is carried throughout the novel, crystallizing at the end.


THEMES - THEME ANALYSIS

Hemingway seeks to convey through this novel an uncomplimentary view of war and a favorable view of love. The book is not an anti-war treatise exclusively, nor is it solely a love story. Henry finds war unromantic and rather than sacrificing his life for a cause he does not believe in, he deserts. His desertion of the army is the natural and logical consequence of his disillusion. Life is an endless struggle, the end of which is death and pain. The theme of the novel, as represented by the love story, is the quest for meaning and certitude in a world that seems to negate just those values. It is about love that goes unrewarded, but then everything in the world of the novel is without reward. The novel celebrates the value of effort in face of manifested defeat and the values of discipline and stoic endurance.


SYMBOLISM / IMAGERY / MOTIFS / SYMBOLS

In this novel, Hemingway makes use of three major symbols: mountains, plains, and rain. The mountain is associated with home whereas the plains are just the opposite. Mountains are introduced in the first sentence of the first chapter and continue throughout the novel: they symbolize love, dignity, health, happiness, and the good life; they also represent worship or at least the consciousness of God. On the other hand, the low-lying plains serve as a symbol of indignity, suffering, disease, death, obscenity, war, and irreligious. The priest tells Henry that his homeland Abruzzi is a scenic place with mountains beyond it, with dry cold and snow, with polite and kindly people, with hospitality, and with natural beauty. Contrasted to it, is the low-lying officer’s mess in the plains: obscenities, the priest-baiting captain, cheap cafes, prostitutes, drunkenness, and destruction. Henry’s love affair begins as a rotten game of wartime seduction but soon it acquires the dimensions of honor and dignity. Therefore, the escaping lovers reach a small village and a villa nestled in snow covered mountains. Catherine becomes the center of the mountain image herself. She signifies home, happiness, security, and comfort, just as the mountains do.

Rain in this novel is a recurrent symbol. In the very first chapter, there is a reference to the rains, which bring cholera that kills seven thousand people. Catherine is afraid of the rain because she sees herself dead in it and indeed it happens at the end. All the major disastrous events in the novel, such as the retreat, the parting of the lovers after Henry’s recovery, and Catherine’s pains of labor and her death, all are accompanied by the rain. It signifies misfortune, distress, and death.


STUDY QUESTIONS

1. Examine the significance of the title A Farewell to Arms.

2. State the major themes in A Farewell to Arms and elaborate on them.

3. Describe the character of Frederic Henry.

4. Write a note on the character of Catherine Barkley.

5. Discuss the significance of various symbols used in this novel.

 

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