A Farewell To Arms


Symbols and Themes


The senseless tragedy of war

Throughout the novel, the war itself is depicted in terms of the grim, everyday realities. There is no honor in it, no glory, and often no logic at all. This fact sometimes comes across in a kind of darkly comic way. Note that when Henry is injured, he is not out fighting bravely, but is huddled with his men eating pasta. When Rinaldi assures Henry that he will be awarded medals for his injury, Henry says he neither wants nor deserves them—underscoring the fact that he does not believe in winning “honor” from being in the war. His conversations with the braggart Moretti and the patriot Gino also emphasize this fact. The retreat from Caporetto that precedes Henry’s desertion of the army is full of absurdity, chaos, and senseless tragedy. Observe how frequently people are killing—not the enemy at all—but the men on their own side: Henry and Bonello shoot one of their own for refusing to help dislodge the truck; Aymo is killed by panicked Italian soldiers who mistake him for a German; the Italian battle police are executing their own officers. This last is the final straw for Henry, and because of the senselessness of it all, he is able to justify his desertion, to make a “separate peace” from the war, and to go his own way. The senseless tragedy of war, however, cannot really be escaped, and it continues to haunt the background of the novel even while Catherine and Henry are together.

Doomed love

In some ways bound up with the senselessness and tragedy of war, the theme of doomed love also hovers over the novel. On the whole, there is an eerie feeling of disaster lurking behind each interaction between Catherine and Henry. When we are first introduced to Catherine Barkley, she is carrying her dead fiancé’s walking stick, and she immediately tells Frederic Henry about losing her love in the war. From our first glimpse of her, she is enveloped in an aura of painfully lost love. Henry...

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Essays About A Farewell To Arms