After finishing Hemingway's short-stories last month, I was excited to get back to another one of his novels, and I must say that I was slightly disappointed in relation to his other works (but still pleased with the work as a whole). "A Farewell to Arms" was still a wonderful novel that I was happy to read, but it definitely fell short of "The Old Man and the Sea," "For Whom the Bell Tolls" as well as some of his short stories such as "The Snows of Kilamanjaro." It's almost a shame these other novels were so good, because it makes the comparison to this novel unfair.
The story chronicled the life of Frederic Henry, an American ambulance driver in the Italian army in World War I. He meets Catherine Barkley, a nurse, who is on the verge of losing her mind after losing her husband in the war. Henry is on the prowl, just looking to be with someone to take his mind away from the war. However, as he gets to know Barkley more, he discovers that he truly loves her.
Some critisize the love between Henry and Barkley as a hollow love. From reading a majority of Hemingway's novels, you can tell that he loves the simplicity in relationships and that he believes complications only tarnish love. His dialogue between these two characters show this - the simplicity seems to be a romance not only in Henry's mind, but Hemingway's as well.
Some argue that dialogue between Henry and other characters in the novel seem simplistic. I find the simplicity remarkably beautiful; and whether or not people generally speak this way, I have no doubt that at least a few still do. This beautiful simplicity is not something that is easy to accomplish either in writing or in reality, especially in today's society. If you look closer, there is tremendous depth behind the simplistic dialogue. If you are not captivated with the emotions in this story, you could miss the incredible amount of information hidden between the lines of text.
The war, in and of itself, is described in stark contrast to Tolstoyan novel. The war is not epic - it's the small things in war that Hemingway describes that makes the tale both beautiful and remarkable. The feeling of being hit with a mortar shell, the self-deprecation involved in doing anything to get away from the line, and the feeling of being caught between the Germans and the Italians as you moved your way cautiously over the terrain.
In "A Farewell to Arms," Hemingway ultimately shows how the human mind bends and will eventually break. After the war ends for Henry, he travels with a pregnant Barkley through Switzerland. Hemingway had me waiting for the inevitable drop of the preverbial hammer... but I must admit, I was duped as to the ending. Of course, Hemingway did not disappoint, and you could not help but feel like Henry was right: "...they killed you in the end. You could count on that. Stay around and they would kill you." A sad end, so true, in the face of war.
"There were many words that you could not stand to hear and finally only the names of places had dignity. Certain numbers were the same way and certain dates and these with the names of the places were all you could say and have them mean anything. Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and the dates." 172-173
"Often a man wishes to be alone and a girl wishes to be alone too and if they love each other they are jealous of that in each other, but I can truly say we never felt that. We could feel alone when we were toeghter, alone against the others." 234