A Farewell to Arms (Censorship (Ready Reference series))
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.”
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...
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Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*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. 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. 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...
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World War I
World War I was also known as the Great War because it was war on a scale previously unimagined in modern history. The war broke out after the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand ignited an already tense territorial feud between Austria-Hungary and Serbia. France Great Britain, and Russia joined together as the Allied powers against the Central Power alliance of Austria-Hungary and Germany. Eventually, America joined the war on the side of the Allies after Russia had withdrawn and the Lusitania, a British passenger ship carrying 128 American citizens, had been sunk. The conflict lasted four years, cost $350 billion, and claimed the lives of twenty-two million. Technologically, it was the most advanced war ever seen because of the number of new inventions introduced: biological weapons, mortar, improved artillery, machine guns, and barbed wire. Not until World War II when the airplane played such a devastating role, would the destructive power of these new weapons be surpassed.
In the novel A Farewell to Arms, Frederic Henry is serving in the Italian army. The role of Italy in World War I was as decoy....
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In Media Res
A Farewell to Arms opens in media res—literally, in the middle of the thing. For the novel, this “thing,” constantly referred to as “it,” is the war. Hemingway is certainly not the first to use this technique to bring the reader immediately into the story. In fact, one of the greatest Western war stories of all time—Homer’s Iliad—opens in the middle of the Trojan war. Hemingway’s use of the technique sets the tone of the novel as one of disjointure and alienation. The reader steps immediately into a world described by someone remembering. However, we are given no clues about time, place, or even the characters. In fact, it takes a good deal of reading before even the name of the narrator is learned.
Originally referring to the mask worn by stage actors in ancient Greece, the persona is the image of the character as it is expressed in reaction to its environment. Hemingway reveals the persona of his main character by the way he reacts to the statements of others. This is demonstrated early in the novel by Frederic’s non-reaction to Catherine’s story. She describes how her fiance was “blown to bits,” and Frederic’s response is to say nothing. Rinaldi, on the other hand, is full of chivalry and charm because his persona is one of Italian machismo. The story is told from Frederic’s point of view and...
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In A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway is concerned with the effects of war on its participants and victims. However, since the focus here is not the aftershock of the war, as it is in The Sun Also Rises, but the war itself, the intensity and concreteness of the war's impact on individuals is far more vivid. At the same time, the general effects of dislocation on an entire nation — Italy — are rendered as the novel's backdrop. Finally, though, it is as a great romantic tragedy — Hemingway called it his Romeo and Juliet — that A Farewell to Arms is generally read and remembered, a powerful lyrical tale of love and death and inexorable doom.
While some readers seem to find only despair in the novel, a sufficient appreciation of Hemingway's tragic sense of life takes most readers far beyond the categories of mere despair. In fact, while Hemingway probes the structures of rhetoric, duty, and obligation, inherent to war, and implicitly criticizes the hypocrisy, bad faith and moral bankruptcy of a society which unleashes such terrible chaos and violence, he also affirms traditional values such as honor and dignity; above all, he celebrates the transforming power of love.
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Compare and Contrast
World War I: America spent around thirty billion dollars on the war effort. At war’s end, due to disagreements with the allies, the United States refused to ratify the peace treaty, join the League of Nations or be part of the European recovery.
1929: British interest rates rose and lured capital away from America’s Wall Street. Prices on the New York Stock Exchange plummeted in late October. The Great Depression set in and the American economy did not see serious improvement until the beginning of World War II.
Today: After a severe recession during the late 1970s and early 1980s, the stock market reaches record highs in the 1990s, and the American dollar becomes very strong in foreign markets. The United States Mexico and Canada begin cooperating in the North American Free Trade Agreement, while Europe works towards creating a stronger European Union, an organization among European countries promoting free trade, a common policy for defense, and a single monetary unit.
World War I: In 1917 Russia sued for a separate peace with Germany when the government of the Tsar, Nicholas II, was threatened by civil war. The Duma, Russia’s legislative body under the czar, asked the czar to...
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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 a strong, independent, and assertive woman to a needy, weak, and dependent person. Using the text, support both sides of the position. What do these views say about Hemingway’s attitude toward gender roles?
- If Catherine’s position as heroine is uncertain, what about the hero Frederic Henry? Using the text, support or reject Henry’s role as hero in A Farewell to Arms.
- Hemingway’s style has been said to be a purely masculine form of writing. What does it mean to say a writing style is male or female? Do you agree or disagree that his style is masculinist? Why?
- The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje is a story about a soldier wounded in the Italy of World War II. Compare it with Hemingway’s story and discuss the genre of wounded men cared for by nurses. How do these stories compare with actual historical accounts of fighting in Italy during World War II?
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Techniques / Literary Precedents
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 disoriented world. They are attempting to identify how balance can be restored to a society that has lost its purpose. With his first novel, The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway cast the pall For A Farewell to Arms. Although the characters in The Sun Also Rises are part of a "lost generation," they nonetheless have some control over their destiny. Catherine and Frederick, however, are much more vulnerable to forces beyond their control, a theme that culminates in For Whom the Bell Tolls. The reliance of the individual upon his/her inner strength versus the forces of society that preys on the individual becomes Hemingway's doctrine throughout his fiction.
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A Farewell to Arms was made into film twice — in 1932, with Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes playing Frederic and Catherine, and again in 1958, with Rock Hudson and Jennifer Jones. Typical failure in Hollywood's version of a Hemingway work is suggested by the alternate ending of the first version, in which Catherine survives. Many other Hemingway works, including a number of the stories, have been adapted to film. The general verdict has been that, at best, the films fail to capture the subtlety and complexity of the work and, at worst, they are travesties of Hemingway's world.
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- Not long after its literary success, A Farewell to Arms was made into a movie by Paramount pictures in 1932. The lead role of Lt. Frederic Henry was played by Gary Cooper. The heroine of the tale, Catherine Barkley, was played by Helen Hayes. Directed by Frank Borzage, the film won several Academy Awards including Best Cinematography (Charles Bryant Lang, Jr.), Best Sound (Harold C. Lewis), and received nominations for Best Art Direction and Best Picture. To Hemingway’s annoyance, the film departed widely from the book.
- A remake in 1950 of the 1932 film was not successful. This version starred William Holden and Nancy Olson. It was directed by Frank Borzage and even retitled—Force of Arms. In 1957, Rock Hudson and Jennifer Jones starred in another remake. The producer, David O. Selznick, never ceased to interfere with the production. This interference led to John Huston’s replacement as director with Charles Vidor. The resulting film butchered the original story so badly that Selznick wrote a letter of apology to Hemingway. The film was condemned immediately upon release, losing Selznick millions of dollars that he had invested in the film. In fact, the only virtue of the film was the cinematic capture of the panoramic Italian landscape. The color photography was done by Piero Portalupi and Oswald Morris.
- In 1990, Hemingway’s novel was adapted as a sound recording. Published by Books on Tape of...
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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 Hemingway’s first novel, The Sun Also Rises (1926). The novel is also the first depiction of the American expatriates living in Paris.
- A view of America in World War I is given in John Steinbeck’s East of Eden. The novel itself concerns a family saga, but the middle of the work was made into a movie starring James Dean. That 1954 film, East of Eden, focuses on Steinbeck’s portrayal of the impact of the war on a small community—from the power of draft boards, to the morality of profiteering from war.
- Another view of World War I was also published early in 1929 from the perspective of a German soldier. Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front was also a great success and found its way onto film. The idea that someone else had published on the same topic—the First World War—months before his book came out alarmed Hemingway but did not affect his sales.
- Indispensible to an understanding of the impact and the horror of the First World War, especially to Europeans, is a reading of the poetry written on the front lines and in a general response to the war. The horror of war was...
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Baker, Carlos, ed. Ernest Hemingway: Critiques of Four Major Novels. Scribners, 1962.
Bloom, Harold, ed. Modern Critical Views: Ernest Hemingway. Chelsea, 1985.
Butcher, Fanny. “Here is Genius, Critic Declares of Hemingway.” In Chicago Daily Tribune, September 28, 1929, p. 11.
Fetterley, Judith. The Resisting Reader: A Feminist Approach to American Fiction. Indiana University Press, 1978.
Hazlitt, Henry. “Take Hemingway.” In New York Sun, September 28, 1929, p. 38.
Herrick, Robert. “What Is Dirt?” In Bookman, November, 1929, p. 258-62.
Monteiro, George, ed. Critical Essays on Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. G. K. Hall, 1994.
Rovit, Earl. “Learning to Care.” In Twentieth Century Interpretations of A Farewell to Arms, edited by Jay Gellens. Prentice-Hall, 1970, pp. 33-40.
Spanier, Sandra Whipple. “Hemingway’s Unknown Soldier: Catherine Barkley, the Critics, and the Great War.” In New Essays on A Farewell to Arms. Cambridge University Press, 1990, pp. 75-108.
Bruccoli, Matthew J. Conversations with Ernest Hemingway. University Press of Mississippi, 1986. Contains interviews with Hemingway that provide the author’s point of view...
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Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
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...
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