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Teaching Guide

Teaching A Farewell to Arms

It's your way or the Hemingway.

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A Farewell to Arms can be boring enough for students that they want those arms to come back from wherever they went—anything to keep them from falling asleep halfway through the first chapter.

Kind of like trying to explain why comedy is funny, it can be really difficult to make tedium interesting…but that's what we do best.

In this guide you won't find heavy weaponry, but you will find

  • a video of Monty Python's Michael Palin, who can make anything fun, touring the sights of A Farewell to Arms.
  • reading quizzes so you can say farewell to ums (and bad puns like that one).
  • bands and songs inspired by the book. Who knew you could jam out to Hemingway?

You don't need machine guns and mustard gas to make the novel exciting—just this teaching guide.

What's Inside Shmoop's Literature Teaching Guides

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Inside each guide you'll find quizzes, activity ideas, discussion questions, and more—all written by experts and designed to save you time. Here are the deets on what you get with your teaching guide:

  • 13-18 Common Core-aligned activities to complete in class with your students, including detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes for every chapter, act, or part of the text.
  • Resources to help make the book feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
  • A note from Shmoop’s teachers to you, telling you what to expect from teaching the text and how you can overcome the hurdles.

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Instructions for You

Objective: In her essay, "A Soldier Home," Yiyun Li writes about her experience reading A Farewell to Arms at home in Beijing. Li's essay was published a full 80 years after Hemingway's quintessential war novel, which means that Li's experiences with military service probably took place about 80 years after Hemingway's, too. And yet, she found comfort and empathy in Hemingway's words. And her writing? It's clearly been influenced by his, which makes her essay a wonderful piece to compare and contrast with A Farewell to Arms

So that’s exactly what your students will do: read Li's essay and then discuss it and A Farewell to Arms in class. That will give them practice analyzing and comparing works of literature by different authors in different historical periods and cultural contexts that nevertheless broach similar issues and themes. They’ll also evaluate the aesthetic styles of both pieces of literature and compare the rhetorical devices used by each author. Then they'll be bring it all home by writing an analytical comparative essay.

Sounds like a tall order, but it's totally doable. Let's take it step by step.

Length of Lesson: 1 class period + a little homework on both sides of the lesson

Materials Needed:

Step 1: Assign the reading of Yiyun Li's essay for homework the night before the lesson, and give your students the following reading questions to answer in writing:

  1. In what ways is Yiyun Li's writing similar to Hemingway's? Does she use any words or phrases that remind you of Hemingway? What about her sentence structure? How about the content of her essay? Does it share anything in common with the story of A Farewell to Arms?
  2. How do you think Li was affected by her reading of A Farewell to Arms? Do you think she enjoyed the book? Why or why not? 

Step 2: Prior to class, tape a few sheets of chart paper around the room—enough to allow your class to split into groups of 4-5 students, with each group having its own piece of chart paper and a marker. If class time is limited, or if you just want to be super prepared, format the sheets of chart paper as follows before class. Alternately, have your students to do this part once they get into their small groups. You can model it on the board for them:




Yiyun Li


Hemingway


Rhetorical Devices


Cultural/Historical Context


Impressions/Effects

Step 3: In class, begin with a discussion of your students' answers to the Yiyun Li reading questions. This should segue nicely into the small group activity. Let your students know that their next task will be to compare Yiyun Li's essay to Hemingway's novel. They'll be doing this according to the categories listed in the chart, above (rhetorical devices, cultural/historical context, impressions/effects), so you'll want to make sure they know what each one means before splitting them up. Here are some quick definitions you can use if you like:

  • Rhetorical Devices: everything about the way a writer puts words together, from the use of commas or dashes to the repetition of words or phrases, sentence structure, and the use of figurative language. (Li, for instance, does a lot of listing, uses em-dashes liberally, and gets nice rhythms going with her use of parallelism. Your students may or may not come up with these. If not, you can always add them into the final discussion in Step X). 
  • Cultural/Historical Context: both when and where the authors were when they wrote their pieces and the cultural/historical contexts of their content matter
  • Impressions/Effects: the ideas and images you are left with after reading each piece. How does the writing make you feel? What is the overall tone or mood of each piece?

Step 4: Split your students into groups. Have them format the rows and columns on their chart paper (if necessary) and then start filling them in. 

Step 5: Report out! Bring the class back together and have the small groups take turns sharing the information from their charts.  

Step 6: Finish up the discussion by creating a giant Venn diagram on the board illustrating the similarities and differences between Hemingway and Li's writings. Encourage the students to copy this down. It will be a great asset to them come homework time. 

NOTE: It could also be helpful to emphasize the differences in genre during this part of the discussion. What are the demands of an autobiographical, reflective essay versus the demands of a piece of fiction?

Step 7: Homework time. Ask students to write an essay that analyzes and compares Yiyun Li's essay to Hemingway's fiction. Yes, you've just discussed this all in depth, but having your students put it into writing in the form of an analytical, comparative essay will really solidify the discussion for them while helping them improve their writing chops. (You can tell them precisely this if/when they groan.)

(California English Language Arts Standards Met: 9th & 10th grade Reading 2.3, 2.4, 2.5, 3.2, 3.3, 3.4, 3.5, 3.6, 3.7, 3.8, 3.9, 3.11, 3.12; Writing 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 1.6, 1.7, 2.2; Written & Oral English Language Conventions 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 1.5; Listening & Speaking 1.8. 11th and 12th grade Reading 2.2, 2.4, 2.5, 2.6, 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, 3.5, 3.7, 3.8, 3.9; Writing 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 2.2; Written & Oral English Language Conventions 1.1, 1.2, 1.3; Speaking Applications 2.3.)

Instructions for Your Students

You might not think the novel A Farewell to Arms has much to do with a Chinese woman who was born 40-plus years after its publication, but guess what? Yep. It does. 

In 2009, Yiyun Li wrote an essay about her experience reading A Farewell to Arms at home in Beijing, and it turns out that despite their seventy-three year age difference (and the fact that one of them died eleven years before the other was born), Li and Hemingway have more than a few things in common. 

That's why you're going to take a look at Li's essay, "A Soldier Home," and compare it to A Farewell to Arms. Ready? (Don't answer that. It's rhetorical.) Here we go. 

Step 1: For homework, read Yiyun Li's essay on A Farewell to Arms and answer the following questions (yes, in writing):

  1. In what ways is Yiyun Li's writing similar to Hemingway's? Does she use any words or phrases that remind you of Hemingway? What about her sentence structure? How about the content of her essay? Does it share anything in common with the story of A Farewell to Arms?
  2. How do you think Li was affected by her reading of A Farewell to Arms? Do you think she enjoyed the book? Why or why not? 

Step 2: In class, be prepared to join in the discussion on the similarities and differences between the essay and Hemingway's novel. Keep in mind—it could be helpful to take notes as you and your classmates hash all of this out. There's homework on the way, and it will be easier for you if you've jotted a few things down along the way.

Step 3: For homework (we warned you), take what you've learned and write an essay that analyzes and compares Yiyun Li's essay to Hemingway's fiction. Yes, you've just discussed this all in depth, but putting it into writing in the form of an analytical, comparative essay will really solidify the information for you while helping improving your writing chops. So no complaining. 

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Common Core Standards  

The following standards are covered in this course:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.8

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Intro    Summary    Themes    Quotes    Characters    Analysis    Questions    Quizzes    Flashcards    Best of the Web    Write Essay    
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