A Farewell To Arms: Themes
There are three major themes in Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms. The first themeis enduring love ended only by mortality. The second, the effects of war on a man's ideals
and morals, things which people can and do believe during war. The last and most
important theme is Frederic Henry's disillusionment.
Hemingway shows that love can persevere in a world ruined with war. Frederic is
not looking for love, and when Rinaldi introduces him to Catherine Barkley, he thinks of
her as merely a sexual conquest. Henry considers his flirting with Catherine "like moves in
a chess game.". Henry thinks Catherine is a little bit crazy, and both admit they are acting.
At the front, Henry realizes he is lonely without her and misses her. But it is not until he
meets her, after he is wounded and sent to an American hospital, that he realizes he loves
her. Henry admits he didn't want to fall in love with her, but even so he has. Their love
continues to grow during his stay at the hospital. Their relationship is unusual since they
rarely argue. Their ideal relationship provides them with refuge from the war. However,
love, has it's limit, mortality. Henry leaves for the front again he suggests that their
romance is only ended by death. He notices because of his love he has become gentle.
When he deserts and returns to Catherine he finds comfort, order, and courage. He says,
foreshadowing the end of their love, "If people bring so much courage to this world the
world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them.". Henry has become
dependent on Catherine. His love for her is strong enough to ease his disillusionment In
Chapter 41 their baby is born dead. Henry hopelessly watches as Catherine dies and he is
left without comfort or hope.
Henry's ideals and morals change during the novel. He begins to question the legal
and immoral theories of the war and replace them with illegal but moral ideas. For
instance, in Chapter 7 Henry meets a soldier who wants to be taken to a hospital which is
against the rules. At first Henry objects, but when the soldier asks him "You wouldn't
want to go in the line all the time, would you?", he answers no and decides to return later
and pick him up. Henry has been unable to find new morals, since he has lost faith in what
the leaders proclaim. Another example is the Romantic ideology of the time, the belief
that war brings glory and honor. Henry enters the war looking for adventure but finds no
glory or honor. He finds he is any no more important to the war than any other soldier.
Also, Henry in Chapter 24, willingly gives up his seat, however, when he was younger he
would have fought for it. He has become mellow and tired of conflict, not because of the
war, but because of his love for Catherine. (?) In Chapter 24, when aviators look at his
civilian clothes with scorn he isn't upset, he has made his peace. The soldiers accept
sanctioned prostitution and verbal abuse of the priest as typical behavior, yet before the
war it would not have been allowed. Once again, in Chapter 29 Henry acts curiously by
shooting a fleeing sergeant. Henry usually follows regulations, and because he had an
spectators he must act like an officer and show his authority. Henry doesn't believe that
shooting other men is moral but the war caused him to do so. Again, Rinaldi is much like
Henry apart from their attitude towards women. Henry sees Catherine as his escape and
Rinaldi finds, that visiting the Villa Rosa brothel he too forgets about the war. Neither
Henry nor Rinaldi can escape entirely from the war. Finally, for instance, in Chapter 30 he
deserts and turns his back on the war. Catherine, also, has her morals effected by the war.
She says that she stayed a virgin for her boyfriend to return from war, but since they "blew
him all to bits" she wishes she...
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