Love is dangerous in A Farewell to Arms. In the middle of a war zone, anyone can die at any moment, breaking the hearts of the loved ones left behind. Yet the characters in the novel risk it all, to be both good romantic lovers and good lovers of human kind. Like all humans, they make mistakes, and sometimes aren’t the lovers they want to be. But as long as they have breath in their bodies, they keep on trying. They keep on trying to love, even with tragedy exploding all around them.
Frederic’s job is an ambulance driver, a man who takes care of the wounded; his choice of profession is evidence of his deep love for humankind.
Over the course of the novel, Frederic grows to love Catherine as much as she loves him.
Set mostly in Italy during World War I, A Farewell to Arms bemoans the horrors of war while giving a human face to those involved in it. The characters work ceaselessly to hold on to their hopes for happiness while doing right by their brothers and sisters in arms. Ernest Hemingway’s description of the war is precise and historically accurate. But his characters are intensely human and contain a variety of views and counterviews. Their colorful dialogues provoke us to join their debates, and in doing so further define our own views about war.
Frederic Henry feels like a criminal when he "deserts" the Italian army during the retreat, but his so-called desertion is an act of bravery and heroism.
A Farewell to Arms shows men fulfilling what are often consider traditional male roles, or even stereotypes – they drink hard, fight hard, play hard, and commit heroic acts of bravery. However, as we get to know them better, their masculinity is revealed as subtle, complicated, and individual to each man. All in all, the men in this novel are human – they love, they suffer, they hurt, they hope, and, sometimes, they even break.
Rinaldi is the novel’s most vivid male character; he completely steals the show from Frederic and is the novel’s hidden protagonist.
There aren’t very many women in A Farewell to Arms, but the ones we do meet are unforgettable characters. In many ways they fulfill traditional female gender roles, or even female stereotypes – they are all either nurses or prostitutes. Yet, as they to try to find happiness and do the right thing in a war-torn world, they transgress and challenge gender roles revealing themselves as simply human – flawed, breakable, strong, daring, and often full of love.
Catherine is completely inaccessible in A Farewell to Arms because we only see her through Frederic, and Frederic is unrealizable.
The characters in A Farewell to Arms push bravery to the limits as they try to do the right thing in a world breaking apart before their eyes under the pressures of war. They are even brave enough to embrace what happiness they encounter. Each such embrace causes them to doubt their own bravery – happiness seems almost obscene when pain and suffering are all around you. The nature of courage and the nature of cowardice are interrogated in Ernest Hemingway’s sensitive and provocative tragedy.
Frederic becomes a coward when he shoots the sergeant during the retreat.
The characters in A Farewell to Arms struggle for understanding through effective communication, and we struggle right along with them. The novel shows that in times of war this struggle is intensified. Effective communication can mean the difference between life and death on the battlefield. Pages and pages of stunning dialogue bring communication down to a very personal level. And, because it’s Hemingway, what’s not spoken or directly communicated is as important as what we are directly told. This Modernist classic, and Hemingway’s style in general, continues to influence literary, journalistic, and even personal modes of communication.
Because so much important information is left out of A Farewell to Arms, it fails to accurately communicate its message.
Catherine and Frederic demonstrate that couples don’t have to fight to get along.
A Farewell to Arms often neutralizes difference springing from differing political and geographic identities. At times, when one group of men is firing on another group of men, such differences surge to the forefront. The novel features an American man and an English woman who meet in Italy during World War I. They both work tending the wounded during World War I. And when there’s pain involved, we are all from the same country. The country of pain. But pain is not the only thing that neutralizes foreignness in Ernest Hemingway’s tragic romance. Love does an even better job. The novel is a loving portrait of Italy, and its people, even the foreigners.
Frederic’s winning personality guarantees that he won’t be a foreigner anywhere in the world.
You could almost get drunk just reading this book. There’s booze on almost every page. But it’s not just for show. The novel has some surprising views on alcohol, which provoke us to examine our own views. One of the most provocative issues in the novel is the use of alcohol on the battlefield by soldiers as a temporary or partial buffer against the nightmare of World War I. The novel also examines alcohol as it’s used to buffer against heartbreak and loss. The drinking can be at times hilariously funny, and at other times tender and tragic. And that’s part of the beauty of Ernest Hemingway’s brash yet sensitive classic.
A Farewell to Arms shows how alcohol can destroy relationships.
In A Farewell to Arms, Frederic uses alcohol to both remember and forget the past.