In A Farewell to Arms, what are some existential quotations or scenes?

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kaseinpoint eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the more clearly existential passages in A Farewell to Arms is this: 

"I was always embarrassed by the words sacred, glorious, and sacrifice. . . . We had heard them . . . had read them, on proclamations . . . and I had seen nothing sacred, and the things that were glorious had no glory. . . . Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage . . . were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and the dates."

One of the major existential ideas is that personal experience matters more than what society or religion tells you. The words "sacred," "glorious," and "sacrifice" are clearly religious words: the glory of the Crusades, the sacrifice of Jesus, etc. Words like "honor" and "courage" were used by politicians to justify the war, to provide some sort of patriotic dogma for continuing to participate in it. For Henry, these abstract words, which reflect the political and social agendas of those in charge of the war, are not only meaningless but completely absurd to his own experience, which is of war as the total opposite of what it should be. 

In contrast to these abstract words, which reflect the ideals of politicians trying to draft people into the war, or religious people trying to justify why it is occurring, the words of "concrete" items like "villages, the numbers of roads . . ." hold much more meaning for Frederic. This is because unlike the abstract words, the concrete words are relevant to Frederic's self. They have meaning for him and thus are more real and genuine, in keeping with existentialism's philosophy of the importance of the self in making meaning. In existentialism, one's self-made meaning is seen as much more philosophically valid than societally created meaning and dogmas.

teachertaylor eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In A Farewell to Arms, scenes that explore individualism and/or an exploration of identity are good places to examine the role that existentialism plays in the novel.  In short, existentialism revolves around the idea that each individual must create his/her own self and that there is no "essence" to what makes up a person.  At the beginning of the novel, the protagonist Lt. Henry is left unnamed, which is an implicit reference to the existentialist idea that Lt. Henry must "create" himself.  Before Lt. Henry meets Catherine Barkley, he has little sense of individual purpose.  However, as their relationship progresses, Lt. Henry builds his life around Catherine.  When the priest visits Lt. Henry in the hospital, Lt. Henry, although sympathetic to the priest's ideas about God, cannot bring himself to say that he believes in God, but he does believe in the relationship that he has with Catherine.  Thus, he "creates" himself around the love that the two share.