A Farewell To Arms by Ernest Hemingway

Themes

The novel concerns itself primarily with the development of Hemingway's philosophy of life, which will be explained here. The story focuses on Henry's discovery of this philosophy, and all of the main characters of the novel serve largely as foils to Henry-they are caught in different stages of their developing the philosophy.

Hemingway, and indeed many of his existential peers, believed that the universe is unordered one. There is no God to watch over man, to dictate codes of morality, or to ensure justice. Instead, the universe is indifferent (sometimes even hostile) to man's plight. In the book, this indifference is best exemplified by the war-an ultimately futile struggle of man against man. There are no winners in a war, and there is no reasoning behind the lives which are taken.

The true Hemingway Code Hero (exemplified here by Catherine, and later also by Henry) must first accept this fact of the universe. This calls for many things, the first of which being a disbelief in God-to Hemingway, such faith was a cheap way of falsely instilling order upon existence (this is where the priest falls short). Because there is no God, there are no universal moral codes, no abstract values such as "justice" or "glory," and certainly no need for moral conventions. The code hero rejects these, but imposes order upon his life through personal values-integrity, dignity, courage, etc. This is what Catherine knows from the beginning and Henry learns in the course of the war. In essence, the hero learns that he, himself, is a crucial source of meaning. Finally, such a person must accept the finality of death, knowing himself to be caught in a meaningless existence.

Disillusionment, however, is not part of being a hero. Rinaldi falls short of this status because once he realizes the truth about the universe, he becomes disillusioned. The true hero can hold this meaninglessness in his mind while simultaneously creating meaning and order through the struggle which is life. He does this first by seeking a worthy adversary to struggle against (in Farewell to Arms this is the war which Henry attempts to free himself from). He endures the pains of life without complaint, knowing them to be a part of life. He does not cheat, but adheres to his personal values (as seen in the horse races). In the end, there is no victory which awaits the hero-winning the struggle is impossible. Consequently, it is irrelevant: what matters is his heroism. Henry's fights the meaningless of life through his love affair with Catherine, among many other things. The universe, of course, challenges that love many times and wins in the end, but Henry's struggle is a heroic one.

To a lesser extent, Farewell to Arms is also an anti-war novel, as the vivid descriptions of its brutality and futility attest to.

Contents

Contents