Normality vs the Absurd "A Farewell to Arms"

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Ernest Hemmingway: A Farewell To Arms
Normality Versus the Absurd

Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms is arguably one of the greatest literary works of art to emerge from the twentieth century, largely due to the elaborate use of symbolism and incorporation of emergent themes. One of the themes that can be derived relates to the dichotomy of the absurd and normal (Baker). Amidst an escalating war, absurdity is evident in one’s attempt to inflict a sense of normality. Many characters demonstrate this theme as they become more conscious of the frailty of life and death through experiencing the trials and tribulations of an intensifying war. Faith and honour in performing one’s duty is a normal theme enforced at the beginning of the war, but is later found to be absurd as the vulgarity of the war heightens. Another instance where the absurd replaces the normal occurs when central character, Lieutenant Henry, attempts to cope with the war through starting a family, highlighting the absurdity of peace. Similarly to peace, the absurdity of life becomes apparent to those that encountered death numerous occasions during the war. Lastly the absurdity of happiness may be the most prevailing theme since it confronts all participants of the war.

Many soldiers abandon their belief of honour toward one’s duty as they begin to appreciate the value of life in an increasingly hectic war. Upon Henry’s return to duty, the obscenity of the war becomes apparent, but more so, the relation between absurdism and the notion of one’s honour to their duty (MacDonald). The sense of absurdism is captured when Henry removes his ranking, ultimately removing himself from the war: “I had taken off the stars, but that was for convenience. It was no point of honour. I was not against them. I was through” (232). Henry’s desire to perform duty in an honourable conduct diminishes upon his return to duty, resulting in his denial to continue fighting. By removing the stars (symbolize bravery and honour) that occupied his uniform; Henry had abandoned the notion of honour toward ones duty for protection and security against any officers trying to execute him. This theme can also be examined through Bonello’s surrender to German troops. The act of Bonello surrendering to the German troops proves he values his life more than his duty as a soldier fighting a war. Piani recites Bonello’s reason in his surrender, stating “[Bonello] was afraid he would get killed… you see we don’t believe in the war” (217). The perception of a progressively elevating war becomes evident to Bonello through a fellow soldiers death. This ultimately causes Bonello to reject the notion of honour toward one’s duty and commit the act of surrender to the German troops in fear of losing his life. The most distinguishable event that displays this theme is the shooting of a fellow Italian soldier by Lieutenant Henry. With the perception of encroaching German troops, the Italian soldier that accompanied Lt. Henry fled, ignoring Henry shout “I order you to come back”(204). In an attempt to preserve his life, the soldier chose to disregard the notion of honouring one’s duty and abandoned Henry’s group. As the peak of the war surfaces, many soldiers abandon the impractical notion of honour toward one’s duty, in fear of their life and prospect of peace after war.

Lieutenant Henry’s failure in attempting to instill an alternate peaceful world with Catherine magnifies the absurdity of peace in war. The normal can be examined by the family Henry starts with Catherine, while the absurd is the introduction of peace within the war. Catherine’s co-worker and peer, Ms. Ferguson, demonstrates the absurdity in starting a family through a mental breakdown. While eating dinner, Ferguson begins to sob at the sight of Henry returning to Catherine, claiming “you think it’s all a joke and are smiles now that your seducer has come back”(247). Through the mental breakdown, Ms....
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