Define symbolism in A Farewell to ArmsErnest Hemingway

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Much symbolism in Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms relates to the tragic love story of Frederic Henry, an ambulance driver for the Italian army and Catherine Barkley. his English nurse after he is wounded.  Such important symbols as weather, the seasons, hair, and officer's stars.

the officer's stars

Stars on the officer's sleeves are marks of duty and competence.  In Chapter 15, Doctor Valentini's confidence that his surgery on Henry will be successful, but his stars on his sleeves communicate his competence to Henry:  "There was a star in a box on his sleeve because he was a major." 

However, when Henry deserts the army, he removes the stars from his own sleeves as a way of destroying his identity.


As they begin their relationship, Henry loves to let Catherine's hair down so that it is like being "inside a tent or behind a falls."  He wants to hide in Catherine, to be isolated with her from the rest of the world.  In Chapter 38 Henry watches as Catherine has her hair done up at a beauty shop.  Later, she suggests that he grow his hair longer and let his beard grow, as well suggested the idea of hiding from the world.  She tells Henry,

"No, let it grow a little longer and I could cut mine and we'd be just alike only one of us blonde and one of us dark."

the seasons

Throughout the novel, the change of seasons occurs, suggesting the changing of life as well as its temporal qualities, much like those of love. 

the weather

Interestingly, the novel begins and ends with rain, which symbolizes death in this Hemingway novel.  In his essay, "Hemingways's A Farewell to Arms:  The Novel as Pure Poetry," Daniel J. Schneider writes that "the dominant state of mind, the sense of death, defeat, failure" are conveyed with images of rain, mist, river, fog, and so on.  Chapter 1 ends with two symbols of death,

At the start of the winter came the permanent rain and with the rain came the cholera. 

While rain represents death, the snow represents hope as it is what ends the fighting in Chapter 2. And, in Book 5, Catherine and Henry seek security in the Swiss Alps with purity and snow around them.  Of course, Catherine foresees herself dead with Henry in the rain.  While they are in Milan she tells him,

"I'm afraid of the rain because sometimes I see myself dead in it...And sometimes i see you dead in it.

Catherine urges Henry to come in out of the rain.  ..."the trees were all bare and the roads were all muddy."

Rain threads throughout the narrative, following Henry at the train station, in the open boat trip across Lake Maggiore, and during Catherine's operation for having the baby, it is raining.  In fact, in despair the novel ends with Henry's leaving the hospital "in the rain."

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