A Farewell to Arms by ernest Hemingway

  • He was born in Illinois in 1899, son of a well-to-do doctor.
  • 1917: became a reporter and learned the rigorous rules of “pure objective writing”.
  • 1918: ambulance driver on the Italian front, severely wounded, silver medal.
  • Job as a foreign correspondent, and in 1922 he settled in Paris.
  • “The Sun Also Rises” (1926), known also as “Fiesta”: love of exotic settings, extreme situations, and manly virtues: courage, comradeship and endurance, themes dealt with again in Death in the Afternoon, 1932.
  • 1929: A Farewell to Arms.
  • Spanish Civil War: correspondent for a news agency, For Whom the Bell Tolls, 1940.
  • Postwar fiction and controversial appraisals: The Old Man and the Sea, 1952 (Pulitzer Prize), Across the River and into the Fields, 1950, and Islands in the Stream, 1970, were criticised.
  • 1954: Nobel Prize for literature. Then, hypertension, diabetes, acute depression, and suicide in 1961.

Paris and the Lost Generation

  • Many disillusioned writers and intellectuals settled in Europe, chiefly to Paris: Lost Generation - Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Eliot, Joyce, Remarque, Pound.
  • The centre of this group of artists was the salon of the American poetess Gertrude Stein.
  • “A Moveable Feast”: "You are all a "génération perdue". - "That is what you are. That's what you all are... all of you young people who served in the war. You are a lost generation."
  • Lost means not vanished but disoriented, wandering, directionless - because of the great confusion and aimlessness among the war's survivors in the early post-war years.
... a new generation dedicated more than the last to the fear of poverty and the worship of success; grown up to find all Gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken... (F.S. Fitzgerald, This side of Paradise)

This novel deals with the story of an American ambulance driver, Lieutenant Frederic Henry, on the Italian front during World War I. The plot is semi-autobiographical: Hemingway did go to the Italian front, but only in 1918. Many characters are derived from people he met - such as the nurse (real name: Agnes von Kurowsky), Rinaldi (Enrico Serena), Count Greffi (Emanuele Greppi) -, but Hemingway didn't experience first hand many war events in the book and only listened to them.

  • The protagonist is serving in the Italian army and falls in love with a beautiful English nurse, Catherine Barkley.
  • He is severely wounded in the knee, is sent at a Milan hospital and there meets her again.
  • He comes back to the front, finds himself in the middle of the retreat from Caporetto, and is about to be shot by the Italian police for "deserting the army".
  • After a difficult coming back to Milan and then to Stresa, he meets Catherine and they escape to Switzerland rowing across Lake Como.
  • They settle there and plan to live their life together. However, Catherine dies trying to deliver their child in a melancholy ending.

At the front, Hemingway must have heard this song by Ermete Giovanni Gaeta, which brought new energy to Italian soldiers even after 24 October 1917 and helped Italy defeat Austria, according to Armando Diaz.

Lieutenant Frederic Henry - Volounteering ambulance driver, son of an American diplomat. He enjoys drinking, trying to treat the war as a joke, and visiting brothels. Everything changes as soon as he meets Catherine Barkley: it's the first time he has experienced true love, which is going to turn his life upside down. His ideals of patriotism are swept away after the retreat from Caporetto, and he signes "a separate peace with Austrians". He and Catherine try to make a fresh start in Switzerland, but their plans and hopes crumble all of a sudden in an hospital in Lausanne. The death of his beloved "wife" is going to be an unbearable weight on his mind for the rest of his life, a weight that he will never be able to explain to himself, just like the war.

Catherine Barkley - aka “Cat.” She had been engaged to a childhood sweetheart killed at the Somme. Now, she gives herself freely to Frederic Henry, showing a complete love and fondness of him. She doesn't want to marry him before the Birth of their son, but feels they are already married. Catherine doesn't seem a very complex person, but enjoys life. She has a premonition that she will die in the rain, and unfortunately the premonition is tragically fulfilled.

Lieutenant Rinaldi - Frederick Henry’s jokingly cynical friend. Over many bottles, they share their experiences and feelings. He is a master of the art of priest-baiting and is very fond of girls - this will lead him to get the syphilis-. He meets Catherine before Frederic, and then he teases him about her, calling her a “cool goddess”, but secretely would have wanted to keep her only for himself.

"You have a lovely pure mind." "Haven't I? that's why they call me Rinaldo Purissimo". "Rinaldo sporchissimo."

The Priest - a young man who blushes easily but manages to survive the oaths and obscenities of the soldiers. He hates the war and its horrors. He is also a living symbol of religion, which is an important theme in the novel.

"It is not education or money. It is something else. Even if they had education or money men like Passini would not wish to be officers. I would not be an officer"."You rank as an officer. I am an officer". "I am not really. You are not even an Italian. You are a foreigner. But you are nearer to the officers than you are to the men". "What is the difference?" "I cannot say it easily. There are people who would make war. There are other people who would not make war". "But the first ones make them do it" "Yes" "And I help them" "You are a foreigner. You are a patriot". "And the ones who would not make the war? Can they stop it?" "I do not know".

Helen Ferguson - a Scottish nurse who is Catherine Barkley’s companion. She is harsh with him because of his affair with Catherine.

Count Greffi - ninety-four years old, a former diplomat with whom Frederic Henry plays billiards at Stresa. A gentle cynic, he says that men do not become wise as they grow old; they merely become more careful.


  • first-person narrator
  • language employed is simple and straightforward - indeed, he received many criticisms about that
  • master of descriptions: he sticks to the rigorous rules of pure objective writing when he talks about places or things
  • active participation of the reader is required - suggestions, omissions and frequent use of free direct and indirect speech
  • Modernist writer. Sometimes it is difficult to figure out who is actually thinking or talking, for many pages - general sense of disorientation and confusion, sometimes.
  • war against commas. replaced by "and" or not replaced at all - pace and pathos

the title - borrowed from a sixteenth-century poem by George Peele (knight's transition from a warrior to a husband in peacetime) - two possible meanings: "Henry and the war" (99%), but also "Henry and the beloved arms of Catherine" (1%, but more evocative).

war - war scenario in which the novel is set. horrors, sufferings, destructions and eventually no glory - vivid descriptions of brutalities and chaos (such as the Italian army’s retreat). soldiers physically, mentally and morally wounded. war is also inevitable, is also the outcome of a cruel, senseless world, and an occasion for women and men to show their best virtues.

“There is nothing worse than war". "Defeat is worse". "I do not believe it. What is defeat? You go home". "They come after you. They take your home. They take your sisters". "I don't believe it".

love - deep meditation on the nature of love. true and mutual love as a source of temporary happiness and relief. love more powerful than abstract ideals (causing even Henry’s becoming a deserter). tragical ending, though: fragility and perishability of love.

"Maybe it is too late. Perhaps I have outlived my religious feeling". "My own comes only at night". "Then too you are in love. Do not forget that is a religious feeling". "You believe so?" "Of course".

meaning of life - enigma throughout the book. why life? why love? is religion useful? why death? can we find a meaning in our existence?

If people bring so much courage to this world, the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.
That was what you did. You died. You did not know what it was about. You never had time to learn. They threw you in and told you the rules and the first time they caught you off they killed you. Or they killed you gratuitously like Ajmo. Or gave you the syphilis like Rinaldi. But they killed you in the end. You could count on that. Stay around and they would kill you.

Before the very end of the novel, there is a poetical and lyrical long simile, in which ants serve as the objective correlative of human condition. Parallels drawn from natural life are traditional in Western literature, such as the metaphor of human beings as leaves, which this long passage seems to resemble.

Once in camp I put a log on top of the fire and it was full of ants. As it commenced to burn, the ants swarmed out and went first toward the centre were the fire was; then turned back and ran toward the end. When there were enough on the end they fell off into the fire. Some got out, their bodies burned and flattered, and went off knowing not where they were going. But most of them went toward the fire and then back toward the end and swarmed on the cool end and finally fell off into the fire. I remember thinking at the time that it was the end of the world and a splendid chance to be a messiah and lift the log off the fire and throw it out where the ants could get off onto the ground. But I did not do anything but throw a tin cup of water on the log, so that I would have the cup empty to put whiskey in before I added water to it. I think the cup of water on the burning log only steamed the ants.

the actual ending of the novel - "But after I had got them out and shut the door and turned off the light it wasn’t any good. It was like saying good-by to a statue. After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain".

the new possible endings - The appendix in the new edition of A Farewell to Arms, published in July 2012, contains fourty-seven alternative endings to the novel, which were found by Hemingway’s grandson Seán among the author’s manuscripts. Some are very bleak, like No. 1, ‘The Nada Ending’: ‘That is all there is to the story. Catherine died and you will die and I will die and that is all I can promise you.’ Others are about the dreary realities of dealing with a person’s physical remains after death, like No. 10, ‘The Funeral Ending’: ‘When people die you have to bury them but you do not have to write about it. You meet undertakers but you do not have to write about them.’ These endings are a fascinating look into how the novel could have concluded on a different note, sometimes sharper and sometimes more optimistic.

Created By
Enrico Zani

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