One of the primary themes of the novel centers on the notion of a "separate peace." Lieutenant Frederic Henry, an American in the Italian Army, is severely wounded, recovers, returns to the war and, finally, after the powerfully rendered retreat from Caporetto, he deserts from the army in an effort to resolve and to escape the contradictions and chaos of a war-maddened world. In a kind of baptismal rite, he plunges into the Tagliamento River: "Anger was washed away in the river along with any obligation." His immersion in the river and flight from the war seal and signify his rebirth in love.
To be redeemed by love, of course, does not imply in Hemingway's tragic vision anything like a "happy ending." As Carlos Baker has succinctly stated the themes of this novel, Frederic and Catherine are "star-crossed," Catherine is "biologically double-crossed, Europe is war-crossed, and life is death-crossed." By the time Catherine dies in childbirth at the end of the novel, Frederic has not only been chastened by tragedy, but he has learned the meaning of commitment and love, and he is a better man for it.
The novel's intricately interwoven themes are perhaps distilled in this famous passage:
If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It...
(The entire section is 428 words.)
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In A Farewell to Arms, one of the themes of Frederic Henry’s adventure as an ambulance driver during World War I is identity. This theme compounds other themes that Hemingway is exploring through the war story. Identity is important to the story because it expresses the general question of the individual in the postwar world. The First World War raised some unsettling questions about the values the war generation had inherited. People began to question the validity of their national leaders and institutions which seemed to have led directly to such an incredible loss of life and economic devastation. Frederic represents, for Hemingway, this questioning of what is man that he can cause such awful destruction and human suffering.
Frederic’s identity is displaced by the late introduction of his name to the reader, the fact of his being an American in the Italian army, and his constant play with words. He speaks Italian, but not well enough to advance in rank. He also understands French and German but remains unmistakably American. None of this is surprising but because Hemingway depends on dialogue to a great extent, the play of words between languages serves to heighten such issues as alienation and patriotism. The former is heightened because jokes do not translate and thus Frederic’s efforts to lighten moods fall into silence. Beyond the curious...
(The entire section is 1421 words.)