Critical Analysis of A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway expresses his philosophy that everyone will eventually die an unfair death through the use of his main character, Frederic Henry. Frederic is surrounded by circumstances in which many people would never want to find themselves; the harsh realities of fighting in war, observing cruel circumstances to friends, and losing a loved one. These events happen to him to make him believe that all of life is just an unfair game. This unfairness of life observed by Frederic Henry motivates him and develops him into a better person.

Frederic Henry is an ambulance driver for the Italian army during World War II; he sees many things he should not have to see while taking part in the war. For instance, when Frederic and three other men, including his friend Passini, ate dinner one evening, an attack was launched. After a great explosion, Frederic looked toward Passini and saw that “one leg was gone and the other was held by tendons and part of the trousers” (Hemingway, 55). Passini was killed right before Frederic’s own eyes. Incidents like this bore heavy on his soul and caused Frederic to want to leave the war. It was unfair to see the people who he cared for die. This particular event helped to motivate Henry to leave the line of duty.

Frederic's true love, Catherine Barkley, informed him that she was nearly three months pregnant at a time when Frederic had been recovering from an injury. He was about to go back on the war front. Aware of the unfairness that Catherine had been through, mainly losing her fiancee in battle, he did not want to see her hurt again. Frederic told Catherine to “take care of [herself] and young Catherine’ (Hemingway, 157). Though Frederic does not care much for having a baby, he loves Catherine deeply and does not want to see her hurt. He insures Catherine throughout the rest of the novel that he loves her deeply and he helps to care for and protect Catherine. While rowing to Switzerland, Frederic constantly looked out for Catherine; he made sure she was comfortable, warm, and did not want her to take the oars to row. Frederic had grown into a caring husband and father looking out for the welfare of his wife and baby to be.

The end of the novel helps to develop Frederic as a character as well. Frederic had been through many hardships throughout the course of the novel and his character is tested the most at the end. Catherine Barkley has become the one person he feels he can rely on through everything. However, at the end of the novel Frederic’s cynical side emerges while talking about death. He commented that it was like a game and “the first time they caught you off base, they killed you” (Hemingway 327). When he finds out his baby has died he is upset over the fact, but he is then more worried about Catherine. While dying, Catherine comforts Frederic by telling him not to worry because “[she’s] not a bit afraid” (Hemmingway, 331).

Once Frederic learned that Catherine had died, he went in to see her. He shut the door and turned out the lights, likening the situation to “saying good-by to a statue” (Hemingway, 332). In these most cynical moments, the character Frederic has come to realize that life must be appreciated, for short or long as it may be. The death of Catherine helps Frederic develop into a person who appreciates rather than resents life. The reader finishes the book with a sense that Frederic has grown through his hard times. The death of friends and loved ones coupled with the realities and disadvantages of wartime, have molded Frederic into a person who will surely look to appreciate every moment of life in his future, rather than one who superficially takes each day for granted.

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7 July 2014. Author: Criticism