A Farewell to Arms Introduction
In A Nutshell
A Farewell to Arms was published in 1929 by Ernest Hemingway, a Nobel Prize-winning American author. This novel is semi-autobiographical. Like the protagonist, Hemingway served in the Italian Army as a Red Cross ambulance driver during World War I, got wounded, and spent time in an American Army in Milan, where he met a nurse. But unlike Hemingway, the novel's protagonist starts a love affair with the nurse. Similar to characters in A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway was deeply influenced by his experiences at war. In fact, Hemingway is considered to be part of the "The Lost Generation." The phrase was coined by Gertrude Stein to refer to Modernist artists who felt "lost" after witnessing the horrors of World War I.
Hemingway certainly relied on his own experiences in WWI Italy to write this novel, but he did use other sources as well. Though A Farewell to Arms begins in 1916, Hemingway didn’t get to Italy until the summer of 1918. The Italian retreat from Caporetto, described in such detailed in the novel, began in October 1917. So how did Hemingway describe it so well? The novel is meticulously researched. Hemingway was a journalist and worked for the Kansas City Star newspaper when the retreat was on, read details of it, and was extremely concerned over the war in general. (For a discussion of the importance of newspapers to the novel, see "Symbols, Imagery, and Allegory.") It’s likely that such concern inspired him to enlist with the Red Cross in the first place.
A Farewell to Arms caused a lot of fuss when its first installment was published by Scribner’s Magazine. The Boston superintendent of police kept Scribner’s off newsstands, though not for long. He claimed it was pornography. (Check out "Sex" for more.) Luckily, the ban only boosted sales and gave the novel free publicity. Nowadays, it’s hardly considered pornographic and is instead known for its sensitive depiction of the war. The novel is even taught at U.S. military academies.
Why Should I Care?
Okay, okay. Love isn't always a pleasure cruise. And boy did Ernest Hemingway know it. This guy knew his love stuff, and he was able to capture the heartbreaking circumstances that can result from even the most sweeping love stories.
Sure, a lot of folks might see Papa H. as a Debbie Downer, but we don't. Nope. Instead, we see him as a realist—a guy who recognized that, even in the midst of love, we might also be in the company of pain and sadness. Think about it: can you name one person who met someone, fell in love instantly, and lived happily ever after? (You can? Then please go throw a tomato at them.)
Relationships are difficult. Especially when you have to deal with more than just the other person. There might be distance, jobs, family, or in the case of A Farewell to Arms, this little thing called a World War. And you know what? No matter how intense love might be, sometimes it simply can't conquer all.
Maybe you've never shot a guy, deserted an army, and rowed to Switzerland (although, hey, you're still young), but you know what it's like when the whole world seems to be working against you. When all you want to do is run away with your loved one, life can just be so… complicated. Life is like that, though. Hemingway gets that. And, in that way, he gets you, too.