Study Guide

A Farewell to Arms

by Ernest Hemingway

A Farewell to Arms Analysis

A Farewell to Arms (Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

The Work

Before publishing A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway complained bitterly about his editor’s acting as censor, removing unsavory words that conveyed important truths about war and love. Despite his editor’s efforts, reviews of the novel often asked if it were art or “dirt.” Several cities in the United States banned the book briefly because of its language. Italy’s Fascist government banned the book because it depicted the cowardice and atrocities of Italian soldiers during the retreat at Caporetto during World War I. The government also forced cuts in a 1932 film adaptation.

Over the years, the book continued to draw fire, especially when taught in U.S. public schools. During the 1980’s, the American Library Association listed the novel as perennially challenged for three primary reasons: sex and debauchery; violent deaths and senseless brutality; and belief in a universe indifferent to people’s suffering. Despite critical acclaim for the book—its honest description of war, unique writing style, and timeless story of tragic lovers—it continues to be challenged as “pacifist propaganda” and “un-American.”

Bibliography:

Beversluis, John. “Dispelling the Romantic Myth: A Study of A Farewell to Arms.” The Hemingway Review 9, no. 1 (Fall, 1989): 18-25. Rejecting the common romantic interpretation, Beversluis asserts that this novel explores the problem of self-knowledge. His reading of the character of Catherine is especially interesting. A special A Farewell to Arms issue of the journal.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Ernest Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms.” New York: Chelsea House, 1987. Offers a representative selection of the best scholarship available on the novel. Includes Bloom’s introduction, chronology, bibliography, and index.

Donaldson, Scott, ed. New Essays on “A Farewell to Arms.” Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1990. Appropriate for specialists and nonspecialists. The introduction discusses the novel’s composition, publication, and reception, as well as its major critical readings from publication to 1990.

Lewis, Robert W. “A Farewell to Arms”: The War of the Words. Boston: Twayne, 1992. Comprehensive resource. Concludes that the novel is about language—particularly the language by which truth and falsehood are revealed.

Waldhorn, Arthur. A Readers’ Guide to Ernest Hemingway. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1972. A concise, well-written vision of Hemingway and his works, appropriate for specialists and nonspecialists.

A Farewell to Arms Places Discussed (Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Italy

*Italy. Country in which Ernest Hemingway’s American protagonist, Frederic Henry, serves as a volunteer ambulance driver during World War I—just as Hemingway himself had served during that war. Moreover, Henry is also like Hemingway in being severely wounded and invalided to recuperate in an American hospital in Milan. There Henry experiences the first serious love of his life, The foreign location makes it easier for Henry to examine the meaning of his young life and allow him to mature as he confronts danger, death, and love. Throughout the novel, Henry struggles to grapple with the foreign language, Italian customs, and unfamiliar geography. All these struggles heighten his perceptions in ways that help bring about his maturation.

*Gorizia

*Gorizia. Small town in northeast Italy near which several major engagements between Italian and Austrian forces were fought during the spring and summer of 1916. Frederic Henry is stationed in a town near Gorizia with the Italian ambulance corps. It is in this location and through his interaction with the other troops stationed there that he begins his maturation.

*Plava

*Plava. Town in northeast Italy on the Isonzo River, north of which Frederic Henry is wounded. Henry’s world is first truly shattered in Plava when he is suddenly forced to face death for the first time. The event, being hit by an Austrian trench mortar, introduces the theme of death’s randomness and its unexpected appearance as well as the need always to be prepared to expect it. This presence of death haunts the rest of this novel as it did most of Hemingway’s prose throughout his career.

*Milan

*Milan. Large northern Italian city to which Henry is sent to recuperate from his wounds. The American hospital there with its American nurses offers a small bit of home amid the foreign environment. Henry experiences a reprieve from the war and has the time to reflect on his mortality in congenial and familiar surroundings. Here, too, he falls in love, which connects the themes of love and war. The love theme proves another experience in Henry’s maturation. It also gives him a reason to reconsider his participation in the conflict and heightens the sweetness of life. Later in the novel, his love for Catherine, the American nurse, hastens his decision to leave the scene of death and destruction for the peace and safety of Switzerland.

*Caporetto

*Caporetto. Battle site in Italy where the Italian forces experienced one of their most devastating defeats during the war. Henry joins the retreating troops there in one of the most memorable sections of the book. It is during the retreat that Henry makes his “separate peace” with the war, which later results in his desertion and flight with Catherine.

*Taglamento River

*Taglamento River. River that the Italian forces cross during their retreat from Caporetto. During the crossing, Henry dives into the river to avoid being shot by the military police. This action can be seen as his “baptism” into a new life after he has made his “separate peace.”

*Stresa

*Stresa. Italian town northwest of Milan where Henry meets Catherine after his desertion. In a small boat they row some twenty miles up Lake Maggiore to Switzerland. Their escape over water reintroduces the baptism theme of Henry’s immersion in the Taglamento River and suggests another rebirth.

*Switzerland

*Switzerland. Country to which Catherine and Frederic escape from Italy. They spend the winter at Montreux at the east end of Lake Geneva. When Catherine dies in childbirth, Henry again confronts the inexplicable presence of death. This event provides the final, if unresolved, event in his initiation into manhood.

A Farewell to Arms Historical Context

English ambulance driver in Italy, during World War I, c. 1918. Published by Gale Cengage

World War I
World War I was also known as the Great War because it was war on a scale previously unimagined in modern...

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A Farewell to Arms Literary Style

In Media Res
A Farewell to Arms opens in media res—literally, in the middle of the thing. For...

(The entire section is 590 words.)

A Farewell to Arms Social Concerns

In A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway is concerned with the effects of war on its participants and victims. However, since the focus here...

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A Farewell to Arms Compare and Contrast

  • World War I: America spent around thirty billion dollars on the war effort. At war’s end, due to...

(The entire section is 478 words.)

A Farewell to Arms Topics for Further Study

  • The character of Hemingway’s Catherine Barkley has undergone a great deal of scrutiny. This attention has alternated from seeing her as...

(The entire section is 178 words.)

A Farewell to Arms Techniques / Literary Precedents

See these sections in the separate analyses of The Sun Also Rises and especially in The Garden of Eden (1986).

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A Farewell to Arms Related Titles

In one sense, all of Hemingway's work is related by style and subject. Like the author himself, Hemingway's characters are seekers in a...

(The entire section is 131 words.)

A Farewell to Arms Adaptations

A Farewell to Arms was made into film twice — in 1932, with Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes playing Frederic and Catherine, and again in...

(The entire section is 96 words.)

A Farewell to Arms Media Adaptations

  • Not long after its literary success, A Farewell to Arms was made into a movie by Paramount pictures in 1932. The lead role...

(The entire section is 331 words.)

A Farewell to Arms What Do I Read Next?

  • For a better sense of the “Lost Generation” as well as the general disillusionment brought about by the aftermath of World War I see...

(The entire section is 368 words.)

A Farewell to Arms Bibliography and Further Reading

Sources
Baker, Carlos, ed. Ernest Hemingway: Critiques of Four Major Novels. Scribners, 1962.

...

(The entire section is 549 words.)

A Farewell to Arms Bibliography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Beversluis, John. “Dispelling the Romantic Myth: A Study of A Farewell to Arms.” The Hemingway Review 9, no. 1 (Fall, 1989): 18-25. Rejecting the common romantic interpretation, Beversluis asserts that this novel explores the problem of self-knowledge. His reading of the character of Catherine is especially interesting. A special A Farewell to Arms issue of the journal.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Ernest Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms.” New York: Chelsea House, 1987. Offers a representative selection of the best scholarship available on the novel. Includes Bloom’s introduction, chronology, bibliography, and index.

Donaldson, Scott, ed. New Essays on “A Farewell to Arms.” Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1990. Appropriate for specialists and nonspecialists. The introduction discusses the novel’s composition, publication, and reception, as well as its major critical readings from publication to 1990.

Lewis, Robert W. “A Farewell to Arms”: The War of the Words. Boston: Twayne, 1992. Comprehensive resource. Concludes that the novel is about language—particularly the language by which truth and falsehood are revealed.

Waldhorn, Arthur. A Readers’ Guide to Ernest Hemingway. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1972. A concise, well-written vision of Hemingway and his works, appropriate for specialists and nonspecialists.