Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Farewell to Arms | Ernest Hemingway

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


Jillian said...

Great review. I'm scared to read Hemingway. The 'beautiful simplicity' always leaves me wanting. A fault in the reader, I'm sure, which is why I like to hear other perspectives.

I think, just as one must learn to write beyond the simple mechanics, one must learn to read, with depth. I'm still learning, for sure...

Eclectic Indulgence said...

If you want a suggestion, read "For Whom the Bell Tolls". It's a simple story, but there is a LOT going on and some really tender moments. For some reason, I have a feeling that you would like it better.

If you don't read 'beyond the simple mechanics', read with emotion and maybe that will help you appreciate Hemingway. Try to FEEL what he feels when he writes... I don't know many authors where I just FEEL more when I read them.

Some of the short stories are really good for this as well.

Jillian said...

Oh, I had missed your suggesrion here to read 'For Whom the Bell Tolls' first.

I have to say, the two quotes you highlight do have me interested. I've struggles with Hemingway in the past, is because there is a great deal I do miss, just under the surface. I'll do as you say, and try to read with emotion -- to imagine it for myself.

Thanks! I'm curious to hear what you learned in the book club, that changed your perspective on this novel?

Eclectic Indulgence said...

I think I'd have a hard time remembering all the nuances from March (a lot has gone on since then and my brain is not as sharp as it used to be)!

That said, this was Hemingway's first novel and while deep, it was evident to me that he had 'promise' but was not quite there yet. Still, a good Hemingway read... just not my fave.

Keep with my suggestion... and then read 'Old Man and the Sea'. The style of that one is SO different that many who read it first are turned off of Hemingway forever. Though, I really enjoyed it.

Jillian said...

Fair enough. :-)

I'm still going to read A Farewell first, but I'll keep in mind that For Whom is better.


Eclectic Indulgence said...

I stand corrected... 'The Sun Also Rises' was the book that got better due to the book club discussion.

'A Farewell to Arms' was really good... and I still feel sad about it.

Jillian said...

Awesome. Thanks!! :-)