This archived article was written by: Brady Maynes
It may be difficult to pick up a book that was written more than 80 years ago. But that is what I did when I picked up A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway. Most people relate a “classic” with required reading in high school. It can be hard to break out of the stigma that required reading equals boring.
Ernest Hemingway won the Nobel Prize in Literature, which is one of the most prestigious honors an author can be awarded, in 1954 for his contribution to literature. He was awarded a Silver Medal of Bravery during World War I while an ambulance driver for the Italian Army. He was also involved in World War II. He lived a troubled life. He was married four times and committed suicide in 1961.
A Farewell to Arms is a fiction piece loosely based on Hemingway’s life. An American Lieutenant Frederic Henry who is an ambulance driver for the Italians tells the story. The first part of the book is relatively slow. The lieutenant’s life on the front is pretty laid back; plenty of drinking and trying to meet women. He soon meets Catherine Barkley, a British nurse at the hospital where he is stationed. And so begins their romance.
Lt Henry is wounded after the Austrian’s attack the Italian front. He is sent to a hospital in Milan to recover. Luckily enough Catherine is sent there too. They spend the summer together and fall in love. When Lieutenant Henry has finally healed and is preparing to go back to the front Catherine tells him that she is three months pregnant.
After only a few days back on the front, the Austrians break through the Italian front and the Italians call a full retreat. While in retreat, the Lieutenant and his party pick up two officers. On their way to their regrouping the two officers decide to revolt and leave the Italian Army. The Lieutenant has no choice but to shoot and he kills one of them.
A few days later, he is taken for interrogation by the Italian version of the military police. He sees that every officer is questioned then executed. The interrogators believe that it is because of the officers that the Italians have been defeated. He breaks free from his captors and rides a river and then a train to reunite with Catherine. They make plans to flee to Switzerland and escape from the Italians and war altogether.
Lieutenant Henry and Catherine make it to Switzerland and find an older couple to live with. Things are quite wonderful. They spend all their time together and wait for the baby to come. Once the baby decides to come, everything changes and their lives are turned upside down.
A Farewell to Arms cements Ernest Hemingway’s claim as a great American author. His writing is straightforward and often grim. He never beats around the bush. Especially when it comes to parts about fighting and killing. His tone softens when it comes to parts with Catherine and Lieutenant Henry’s romance.
A Farewell to Arms raises many questions to the reader. For one, Lieutenant Henry is an American fighting in WWI before the United States declared war. How many people are willing to do what it takes to receive any type of medal from the military? Would you be willing to return to a war front after you had been injured? Would you act as Lieutenant Henry did when faced with insubordination? And then a few days later, he runs just as the man he shot did. How do we act when trouble and tragedy strikes?
During the first few chapters, I had to push myself to keep going. As soon as I reached the part where he was wounded, I wanted to keep going. It seems that most books written today have much more going on during their beginnings; so understandably I have fast paced everything ingrained into me.
It is a book filled with more than just war and romance. The reader will have plenty of points of morality to ponder if they just look and ask.