Weather Symbolism in a Farewell to Arms

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In A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway attempts to tell the unvarnished truth about war — to present an honest, rather than a heroic, account of combat, retreat, and the ways in which soldiers fill their time when they are not fighting. Yet Hemingway's realistic approach to his subject does not rule out the use of many time-honored literary devices.

For instance, weather is to this day a fundamental component of the war experience. Hemingway depicts weather realistically in A Farewell to Arms, but he uses it for symbolic purposes as well. Rain, often equated with life and growth, stands for death in this novel, and snow symbolizes hope: an entirely original schema.

In stories such as "To Build a Fire," by Jack London, snow and ice quite logically represent danger and death. After all, one can freeze to death, fall through thin ice and drown, or perish beneath an avalanche. In Chapter II of A Farewell Arms, on the other hand, it is snow that ends the fighting described in the book's first chapter. Thus snow stands for safety rather than its opposite. (Note, though, that although snow covers the bare ground and even the Italian army's artillery in Chapter II, stumps of oak trees torn up by the summer's fighting continue to protrude — a reminder that winter is of course not permanent but merely a reprieve from combat, a cease-fire.) Shortly thereafter, Frederic Henry describes the priest's home region of Abruzzi as a "place where the roads were frozen and hard as iron, where it was clear and cold and dry and the snow was dry and powdery . . . ," and the context leaves no doubt that this characterization is a positive one.

Late in the novel, the argument between the Swiss policemen over winter sports not only provides much-needed comic relief; it also marks the beginning of Henry and Catherine Barkley's second idyll. (The first takes place in summertime, in Milan.) Immediately afterwards, Henry and Catherine find themselves in the Swiss Alps, with...
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