A Farewell To Arms by Ernest Hemingway

Analysis of Part 1 (Chapters 1 - 5)

The opening chapter is an important one, introducing many major motifs to be developed later. In the chapter, war and death are juxtaposed against nature and life. There are trees, but they are coated in dust and the leaves fall off early because of it. The thick, green leaves not found on the trees are instead used by the troops to conceal guns in the trucks. The clear and swift-moving river water is juxtaposed against images of rain and mud as well as slow-moving troops. The image of fertility is compared to soldiers carrying artillery in front of their bellies.

The situation here is bleak. The chapter sets up a tired mood, with troops trudging incessantly through the mud. It is also soured by irony: "At the start of the winter came the permanent rain and with the rain came the cholera. But it was checked and in the end only seven thousand died of it in the army." The description of a "permanent rain" is intended to create a feeling of helplessness. The "only" in the second sentence conveys a sense of the war's scope.

The tiredness of the war is mirrored by the troops themselves. The narrator begins the second chapter with the comment that "the next year there were many victories." That is all. It is blunt and detached, as if the victories no longer matter and nobody knows what they are fighting for. Later, a shell explodes in front of Henry and instead of reacting emotionally, he simply describes the smell of the explosion: one of "blasted clay and stone and freshly shattered flint."

The narrator of the story and the protagonist are two different people, as can be seen in the soliloquy on pages 13 and 14. The protagonist is Henry Frederick during the events narrated in the book, but the narrator is clearly an older Henry, one after the events. The soliloquy itself revolves around an "it" that separates the narrator from the protagonist: it is something which "I did not know then, although I learned it later." It is something the priest "had always known" and which Henry "was always able to forget." What Henry refers to is still debated among scholars, but the most prominent opinion seems to be that the "it" refers to a questioning of faith. The argument is that over the course of the novel Henry has developed a tragic vision of sorts-a knowledge that the world is indifferent (i.e. there is no God) and that life is ultimately meaningless. A few scholars have argued that the "it" is the opposite-Henry has come to the realization that he has a soul and that death is not final. The interpretation of the novel presented here will favor the former, which is more consistent with the trends that run through Hemingway's other novels.

Whichever the case, at this point in the novel it is worth noting that there is already a seed of existentialism in Henry. When returning from leave, he notes that nothing seems to have changed and "evidently it did not matter whether I was there or not." The comment hints at a view that there may be no significance to living at all. At another time, Henry pronounces that "we did not do the things we wanted to do; we never did such things." Here he argues that life itself prevents a person from doing what he wishes.

Many things can be discovered about Catherine in her first conversation with Henry. She tells that she had a fiancé she was engaged to for eight years, at which point he went into the war and died: "he was killed and that was the end of it." Henry's "I don't know" which follows her tale expresses his uncertainty regarding the existence of an afterlife. In contrast, Catherine is sure there is none: "That's the end of it," she assures him. Catherine expresses regret that she didn't marry him because she was afraid of the consequences, but now realizes the meaninglessness of the consequences. Life, to her, does what it wishes to do, and her living is the struggle against circumstance.