Compare and contrast the love affair in Romeo and Juliet and A Farewell to Arms. What are the causes of the tragedy in these two works? What do these works reveal about love, warfare, or family?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One distinct similarity between the love affair in Romeo and Juliet and A Farewell to Arms is how people can be in love while the world around them represents the antithesis to love.  In both works, love, or affections between a man and a woman, is set against a backdrop of animosity and antagonism.  The feud in Verona and the First World War are both areas that embody the very worst of human emotions and action.  Death and hostility are the common denominators in both settings.  However, amidst this decay and sense of intense anger, there is the possibility for affection and love.  In the loves within both works, something quite pure and beautiful exist in a setting that is devoid of it.  Perhaps, this common link helps to establish another connective similarity between both works in that the love that exists is not lasting or permanent.  It is interrupted by unnatural death.  Catherine dies post- childbirth, leaving Frederic alone.  Her death renders the love she shared with Frederic as an example of what might have been or what could have been.  In Shakespeare's construction of love, Romeo and Juliet die before their love could experience maturation.  A common link between both depictions of love is an interrupted one, something that is not permanent.  The condition of love in both works exists outside of the world of the family, but yet is one that cannot last.

A significant difference between the vision of love that is featured can be seen in the Modernist element of Hemingway in contrast to the Shakespearean condition of being in the world.  Frederic is left alone, his alienated condition brought about through Catherine's death.  In the deaths of Romeo and Juliet, there is little alienation, little in way of division.  There is a unity in the deaths featured, something absent in Frederic's walk in the rain upon Catherine dying. The alienation of the individual is something that occupies central importance in Hemingway and is not as evident in Shakespeare.  In some ways, this highlights the difference between the notion of tragedy in each work.  For Shakespeare, the definition of tragedy is being poised between equally desirable, but ultimately incompatible courses of action.  Romeo and Juliet must choose between honoring their love on one hand, and the wishes of society on the other.  This vision of the tragic predicament can be contrasted with Hemingway's vision, who sees tragedy as the appropriation of the world in accordance to an external reality.  In the novel, that appropriation is war.  The difference in how the narrative of love is structured can be seen in how tragedy is depicted in each work. 

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In both narratives of Romeo and Juliet and Farewell to Arms, there exist the theme of Fated Love as the "star-crossed" pairs struggle against the backdrops of social and political turmoil. Moreover, there is a certain fated violence that intrudes upon the lives of the respective lovers despite their passionate determination to love one another under the mask of darkness. Indeed, their passion is poetically tragic as they struggle against the unfortunate appropriations of feuds and war.

While Romeo and Juliet consummate their love under the cover of night with the Nurse watching out for them, Frederic and Catherine make love with a fellow nurse on the lookout. With the slaying of Tybalt Romeo must flee to Mantua; similarly, after the debacle of the battle of Caporetto and the Italian army's retreat, Frederic decides to defect and live in a "separate peace" in Switzerland with Catherine and, like Romeo and Juliet, seek some meaning to their lives against the force of mortality. "Oh, I defy you, fate!" Romeo cries, and Frederic tells Catherine, "You're my religion. You're all I've got."

Despite their passionate efforts, the four "star-crossed lovers" are mastered by fate. Frederic Henry narrates,

The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.

Catherine who expresses a fear of the rain having envisioned herself as dead in it, does, indeed, die in childbirth and the novel ends with the hapless Frederic walking out into the rain.  Romeo, who feared the night in the first act, finds himself "Fortune's Fool" and both he and Juliet met tragic deaths, results of their fated love.

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A Farewell to Arms

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