Farewell to Arms: Religion

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Religion in "A Farewell to Arms"
For hundreds of years, writers have used religion as a principle issue and point of discussion in their novels. Hawthorne expressed his views in The Scarlet Letter, Garcia Marquez did the same in One Hundred Years of Solitude and in other writings, and even Ernest Hemingway used his writing to develop his own ideas concerning the church. This is fully evident in his novel A Farewell to Arms. Even in a book in which the large majority of the characters profess their atheism, the ideas of the church materialize repeatedly as both characters and as topics of conversations. Religion is presented through reflections of the protagonist "Lieutenant Henry," and through a series of encounters involving Henry and a character simply identified as "the priest." Hemingway uses the treatment of the priest by the soldiers and by Henry himself to illustrate two ways of approaching religion in a situation in which God has no place, and employs these encounters between the priest and other characters as a means of expressing religious views of his own. Most evident to the reader is the strict difference between the priest's relationship with Henry and that which he has with the other soldiers. Hemingway repeatedly emphasizes this in all sections of the book, even after Henry is injured, when he is completely isolated from the other soldiers. The first instance the reader sees of this is only six pages into the novel. Hemingway writes, "That night in the mess after the spaghetti course . . . the captain commenced picking on the priest" (6-7). Hemingway's diction is suggestive: "commenced" signifies not only that the soldiers began to pick on the priest, but that ridiculing the priest was their main activity prior to dinner as well as after. Almost the same scenario is portrayed only a few pages later: "the meal was finished, and the argument went on. We two stopped talking and the captain shouted, 'Priest not happy. Priest not happy without girls.'" (14). The soldiers' ridicule of the priest is again highlighted when Henry, bed-stricken with his injury, asks the priest "How is the mess?" (69). The priest replies "I am still a great joke" (69). The reader sees an obvious pattern in the relationship between the priest and the others. More important, though, than the fact that the other soldiers ridicule the priest, is for what he is ridiculed. For one, they question his intelligence, with one soldier proclaiming that "all thinking men are atheists" (8). His religious celibacy also becomes an easy target:

'Today I see priest with girls.'
'No,' said the priest. The other officers were amused at
the baiting.
'Priest not with girls,' went on the captain. 'Priest never
with girls.' (7)

The soldiers begin to call the priest's masculinity into question. The captain continues: "'Priest every night five against one.' Every one at the table laughed. 'You understand? Priest every night five against one.' He made a gesture and laughed loudly" (7). In this way the question of faith becomes a question of manhood. An officer has pointed out in front of a large group of soldiers, all of whom resort to the whorehouse for entertainment, the fact that the priest does not have sex with women. In the eyes of the soldiers, the priest, who represents all things religious, is not a man. His masculinity is called into question in a different way as well:

'Priest wants us never to attack. Don't you want us
never to attack?
'No. If there is a war I suppose we must attack.'
'Must attack. Shall attack!' (14)

Here the priest indirectly states his opposition to the war, which later may become common among the soldiers, but at this point is in direct contrast to the macho proclamation that the army "shall attack" (14). Again the differences between the priest and the soldiers are emphasized. Overall, the soldiers express a complete distrust of the church itself....
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