A Farewell to Arms: Style

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A Farewell to Arms: Style

Critics usually describe Hemingway's style as simple, spare, and journalistic. These are all good words; they all apply. Perhaps because of his training as a newspaperman, Hemingway is a master of the declarative, subject-verb-object sentence. His writing has been likened to a boxer's punches--combinations of lefts and rights coming at us without pause. Take the following passage:

We were all cooked. The thing was not to recognize it. The last country to realize they were cooked would win the war. We had another drink. Was I on somebody's staff? No. He was. It was all balls.

The style gains power because it is so full of sensory detail.

There was an inn in the trees at the Bains de l'Allaiz where the woodcutters stopped to drink, and we sat inside warmed by the stove and drank hot red wine with spices and lemon in it. They called it gluhwein and it was a good thing to warm you and to celebrate with. The inn was dark and smoky inside and afterward when you went out the cold air came sharply into your lungs and numbed the edge of your nose as you inhaled.

The simplicity and the sensory richness flow directly from Hemingway's and his characters'--beliefs. The punchy, vivid language has the immediacy of a news bulletin: these are facts, Hemingway is telling us, and they can't be ignored. And just as Frederic Henry comes to distrust abstractions like "patriotism," so does Hemingway distrust them. Instead he seeks the concrete, the tangible: "hot red wine with spices, cold air that numbs your nose." A simple "good" becomes higher praise than another writer's string of decorative adjectives.

Though Hemingway is best known for the tough simplicity of style seen in the first passage cited above, if we take a close look at A Farewell to Arms, we will often find another Hemingway at work--a writer who is aiming for certain complex effects, who is experimenting with language, and who is often self- consciously manipulating words....
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