Ernest Hemingway is a case for cause – this writer struggling with mental health issues and alcohol abuse created a first-person narrative of an American serving in the First World War. A Farewell to Arms is a melancholy way to look at war, love, and a veteran’s future.
What it’s about
Like a sad, indie, foreign movie, A Farewell to Arms is a love story destined for tragedy. Frederic Henry is an American who felt like signing up for the Italian Army during the First World War (they were on our side that time). Henry drives an ambulance and sees some pretty horrific stuff. While serving, Henry can’t resist a British accent and falls in love with a nurse’s aide named Catherine Barkley.
Henry is all about the thrill of the chase, so he goes after Catherine when he initially meets her and again when he is wounded and sent to the hospital in Milan where she works. Their affair blossoms and Catherine eventually becomes pregnant with Henry’s child.
Henry must return to the warfront once he’s healed. There Hemingway exposes the inefficient behaviors of warfare, such as officers blaming lower-ranking soldiers for defeat. Henry narrowly escapes execution and flees to Switzerland with Catherine to start a new life.
Things aren’t so great in Switzerland once the baby comes, and tragedy falls upon them.
Your favorite part will be
Like today, guys and girls a hundred years ago were thrilled by the chase. Catherine and Henry play a series of romantic games that eventually lead to an intense romance.
The cause-y angles
Troops and Mental Health
Initially, Henry is selfless and devoted to his duties in the army. He even shows little desire to receive medals or anything sign of personal honor.
Most characters are negative about the war, disillusioned by its intense destruction and little gain (WWI didn’t really have a clear cause that it was fighting).
Henry’s sudden shooting of the engineer on the front (and surrounding soldiers’ mild reaction) proves that detachment from death has reached a high point.
War has made Henry detached from emotion and obligation to his fellow troops. His traumatic experiences seeing death and inefficiencies in the Italian army makes him easily abandon his fellow soldiers, though he feels guilty about it afterwards.
Excessive drinking gets characters into constant trouble.
- He’s accused of purposely giving himself jaundice due to his habit, and as a result his vacation from the army is denied.
- Catherine drinks during pregnancy, thinking that the habit will make her birth easier since the baby “needs to come out small.” She is unaware of the harmful mental affects drinking during pregnancy will most likely have.
Catherine can be viewed in two ways
- She is a stereotype of submissive female. Once she’s pregnant and safe in Switzerland, she seems to be content to do nothing else but have a baby.
- On the other hand, Catherine is in a fair amount of control. She holds a lot of power in the games that she plays with Henry, often calling the shots of when they should stop. Catherine also shows signs of worry for the post-WWI world while Henry is constantly distracted by escapism and the blissful life they lead in Switzerland.
Henry’s friend Rinaldi is a surgeon, but nevertheless Henry believes Rinaldi has contracted syphilis, a common STD at the time that was associated with men’s frequent visits with prostitutes.