A Farewell To Arms



A Farewell to Arms, published in 1929, was Ernest Hemingway’s second book. Like The Sun Also Rises, his first novel, A Farewell to Arms tells the story of people tragically affected by their experiences in World War I. Whereas The Sun Also Rises describes the lives of its characters after the war, A Farewell to Arms is set during the war. It is both a war novel and a love story. Unlike many of the war epics which came before it—such as Homer’s Iliad or Tolstoy’s War and Peace—A Farewell to Arms does not sugarcoat its depiction of war with moments of glory or honor. Rather, Hemingway depicts the grim, day to day realities of war, pervaded by a sense of hopelessness and tragedy. The love story between Frederic Henry and Catherine Barkley that is central to the novel’s plot is, like the war itself, haunted by tragedy.

Throughout A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway refers to geographic locations, governments, and battles with which his 1929 audience would have been familiar, since the novel was published just over a decade after the end of World War I. For today’s audience, it is useful to have some basic knowledge of World War I, which began in 1914. As a result of the assassination of Austrian Archduke Francis Ferdinand, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, allied with Germany, was fighting the combined forces of France, Great Britain, Italy and Russia, with the United States joining these last in 1917. When the novel opens in 1916, Frederic Henry is stationed at the war front lying along the then-border between Italy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He is an ambulance driver for the Italian army, which is stationed at this location in order to engage the Austro-Hungarian armies and keep them from aiding the Germans on the western and eastern war fronts.

When Henry is injured, he is sent for medical treatment to Milan, in northern Italy, far from the front lines. When Russia withdraws from the war in 1917 after the Communist Revolution, Germany is...

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