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A Farewell to Arms

In A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway develops a love story between a man and a woman within the broader context of the death and destruction of World War I. The novel gains a good deal of dramatic power from this contrast. This novel was the first work that won Hemingway universal fame as a great writer. It has been subject to some issues of censorship due both to the profanity and the political content that is present within the text. 

Introducing A Farewell To Arms 

A Farewell to Arms is a 1929 wartime novel by American author Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961). With a title lifted from 16th-century poet George Peele, the story is told from the perspective of an expatriate American officer, Frederic Henry—who serves as Lieutenant in the Italian Army's ambulance division—and his ill-fated love affair with a woman, Catherine Barkley.

Divided into five books, the novel begins with Fredric's initial courtship of Catherine. During a mission on the Italian front, he incurs a knee injury that leads to a hospital stay in Milan. In book two, the romance heats up during a romantic summer getaway. Frederic's full recovery coincides with the news that Catherine is pregnant. Action recommences in book three, where Frederic returns to duty just before Italy's loss in the Battle of Caporetto. He kills an insubordinate sergeant, and is subsequently taken into custody by the "battle police" for alleged complicity in Italy's defeat. Learning that he'll be killed in the interrogation, he escapes into the river. Book four sees the reunited couple in Switzerland, where they come via rowboat. In book five, the lovers are living peacefully in the Alps, but their bliss is cut short by Catherine's complicated pregnancy.

A Farewell To Arms Summary

A Farewell to Arms deals with the effects of war and the protagonist's effort to rid it from his life. While the novel refrains from either a pro or anti-war stance, it's clear that most of the service men resent the destruction and bloodshed. As the Italian army retreats from its devastating loss, it's clear that the whole experience has taken a toll on each soldier's rationale and sense of judgment. When Henry kills the engineer, it shocks the reader, who comes to know him as a level-headed individual. Given the circumstances, however, the murder seems like a frightening yet inevitable consequence of the surrounding madness. According to some readings, this was the author's way of acknowledging that while war is a consequence of human fault, it also represents the dark side of a world that has failed to embrace love in its fullest sense. 

The novel also examines the concept of loyalty and how it applies in different areas of life. In terms of the war effort, Frederic's loyalty as a serviceman is never in doubt throughout most of his time on duty. Still, his romantic priorities take precedence over any sense of national pride in a war that he realizes was never right in the first place. When he escapes fate by jumping into the water, it's his loyalty to Catherine that triumphs over any lingering sense of obligation to the uniform.  Another novel that that has a similar theme is All Quiet on the Western Front. 

Interesting Facts about Hemingway

Early editions of the novel filtered out some of the vulgar language, though Hemingway re-added the offending words on a handful of first-run copies. Though uses of s and f-bombs have not been re-added in modern editions, audio versions do exist with the intended text intact.

Hemingway drew heavily from his own time serving for Italy during WWI while writing the novel. The character of Catherine was based on American nurse Agnes von Kurowsky, who treated his wounds in Milan. The author was smitten by Kurowsky, but she turned him down as a suitor. Ironically, Hemingway's wife would have to undergo a c-section just as he was writing the passage about Catherine's maternal death.

A Farewell to Arms has been twice adapted by Hollywood: in a 1932 Paramount feature with Gary Cooper as Frederic Henry; and in a 1957 20th Century Fox movie with Rock Hudson in the starring role. 

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