A Farewell to Arms Analysis

A Farewell to Arms Analysis
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 ‘A Farewell to Arms’ is one of the most successful and artistically admirable works of Ernest Hemingway. His novels are admirable for his artistic qualities. He paints the story and characters in such a way that the reader gets fascinated by the words and gets deeply involved in the story. His magical words and vividness of tone let the characters of the story dwell in the reader’s mind for a long time. This paper aims to analyze “A Farewell to Arms” for the literary devices used, characters, themes, setting, mood, and narrative techniques used by the author.

The novel under consideration provides the account of places, events, and dates. The setting of the novel moves as the story proceeds. The setting of this novel is not restricted to a single place but moves from one place to the other (like from Italy to Switzerland, battlefield, etc.). This novel is the story of a young American man Frederic Henry, who works as a volunteer with the Italian Army during World War I. The story proceeds with the account of his developing love with an English nurse. Having strong feelings for his love, he leaves and tries his luck in Switzerland. They lived a harmonious life but their story ended up with the tragic death of Frederic’s wife and child during the delivery. In order to correctly figure out and expose the instances that Catherine and Henry encountered, Hemingway follows a rather flexible approach in choosing the plot structure. He does not write it with a tragic aspect; neither does he follow a completely realistic plotting style. He uses a realistic way to add tragedy and finds a peculiar mixture of romantic and tragic states (Dahiya, p 49).

This novel contains a number of important themes. The first and most obvious theme that is observed is ‘love’. This novel gives an account of the love of Catherine and Frederic. Hemingway exposes the power of love that may dwell in the hearts of people regardless of the wars that prevail around them. He shows us how loves works as it wins over the materialistic aims of a person i.e. Frederic’s escape from the war scenario. However, the limitations on love are the natural phenomenon of death as represented by Catherine’s demise (Berridge & Hemingway, p 17).

War remains one of the major themes of the novel. The portrayal of war, however, is not to show patriotism but instead the horrors of it. War is portrayed as a game for the upper classes and its consequences are dreadful for the poorer class. Human values are another important theme that is associated with the war concept in the novel. The novel accounts for human values as they change and deteriorate due to the horrors of war. Hemingway did a great job when portraying the loss of innocence due to the butter realities that a person faces in life. The disillusionment of Frederic Henry supports this theme is a proficient manner. His participation in the war with innocent desires and a search for some naive excitement transforms into a pessimist who has observed and faced the bitterness of reality. Catherine’s death is another instance which leaves him in the everlasting disillusionment. 

Hemingway uses a simple, spare, and journalistic style. His expertise in declarative tone and clear language is evident in this novel. The sensory details he provides are another addition to the excellence of his write style. The novel is abundant with such examples. The sensory richness is observed throughout the novel and the narrative simplicity is admirable throughout the incidents explained. The vividness of language is the major contribution of Hemingway towards the achievement of distinctness and clarity of the description. For instance, the simplicity of words equipped with sensory richness can be observed in the following words: “The inn was dark and smoky inside and afterward when you went out the cold air came sharply into your lungs and numbed the edge of your nose as you inhaled”. He uses Henry as the narrator of his feelings and changes his writing style as the mood of the narrator changes. He does not always use simple and pithy sentences but at times uses long sentences with more than 80 words. For instance, in a passage in the 3rd chapter, he states: “I had gone to no such place but to the cafes and nights when… sure that this was all and all and all and not caring.” This is also an example of his realistically carved portrayal and style as he tries incorporating the words of an intoxicated person creatively as expected by a person who is actually drunk. Moreover, the rhythm and repetition of words give a new life to the prose. Hemingway’s prose style is more prominent when he is drowned in his feelings and exposes the inner of a person. In short, we can say that he has written this novel in the first-person narrator style (Mark, 2009).

Hemingway uses the first-person-narrator style and most of his characters are seen through the eyes of his main narrator, i.e. Henry. He often uses Henry as a prop to show how his characters look like by letting his narrator come across those characters. Moreover, he also characterizes them by means of their actions. He puts his characters in different situations and binds them into different categories according to their reactions and responses to those circumstances. His characterization techniques do not only portray the outer/physical appearance of a person but also show the inner traits, qualities, and personality of the character. He also uses a simple dialogue form between characters that discusses their qualities or expose the quality of the third character in their conversations. Whatever techniques he uses, Hemingway does not lack picturing the characters prominently. The major characters involved in the novel’s action are Frederic Henry and Catherine Barkley. Other characters include Renaldi, Priest, Passini, Helen Ferguson, Miss Gage, Miss Van Campen, Dr. Valentini, Count Greffi, Ettore Moretti, Gino, Ralph Simmons, Emilio, and Bonnell (Dahiya,  pp 50-51). However, for the purpose of this brief analysis, only the major character is being discussed.

Frederic Henry is undoubtedly performing the leading role throughout the novel. He is an emotional and figurative character who keeps the novel flow from one point of time to the other. He is the antagonist and protagonist of the novel. This leading character can be compared to Hamlet’s character in Shakespeare’s novel Hamlet. Like Hamlet, he is the most prominent figure of the novel. Although all other characters hold their own importance, they cannot exceed his position in the novel. They all pose as supporting characters to his story. Like Hamlet, ‘A Farewell to Arms’ could be given the name of the main character. His character at the start of the novel is portrayed as a young and shy person. His commitment to the social cause of volunteering the Italian Army also exposes him as a loving and devoted person to the social causes. However, the bitter realities of war and life make him a rather pessimistic figure as represented by his action of putting the engineering sergeant to death (Scott, 1990).

In conclusion, we can say that Hemingway uses all the literary concepts that come in line with the setting and theme he chooses. His style is not limited to the use of a single way of narrating, portraying, or explaining but uses a number of devices to achieve his desired aim. He uses his characters to expose his ideas about love, life, war, and the world at large. This novel is unquestionably marvelous in the story, literary context, and universal concepts of love, war, truth, bravery, etc.


Berridge, H R. Ernest Hemingway’s a Farewell to Arms. Barron’s book notes. Woodbury, N.Y: Barron’s, 1984. Print.

Dahiya, Bhim S. Hemingway’s a Farewell to Arms: A Critical Study. University education series, 2. Delhi: Academic Foundation, 1992. Print.

Cirino, Mark. “Teaching Hemingway’s a Farewell to Arms (review).” The Hemingway Review. 28.2 (2009): 140-143. Print.

Donaldson, Scott. New Essays on a Farewell to Arms. The American novel. Cambridge [England: Cambridge University Press, 1990. Print.