Hemingway's fiction celebrates a specific type of manhood. What kind of man does A Farewell to Arms celebrate, and how does Hemingway achieve this effect? How does Hemingway's sparse style explore masculinity?
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A Farewell To Arms celebrates the archetypal Hemingway hero, one who is stoic in the face of adversity, independent to the point of rebellion, self-confident in carriage and demeanor, physically adept, and aggressive in temperament. The Hemingway masculinity celebrates strength, decisiveness, and honor. Henry possesses his own code of morals, regardless of what others may decide.
In Chapter 30, Henry is captured just as he and Piani are crossing the bridge across the Tagliamento. When he realizes that the Italians are executing officers they believe to have contributed to the Italian retreat, Henry makes an immediate decision to dive into the river. His resolve, decisiveness, courage, and fortitude saves his life. Henry manages to cross the Venetian plain despite the pain in his knee; to avoid the risk of hypothermia, he keeps moving, slapping his arms at periodic intervals 'to keep the circulation going.'
He manages to board a military train that evening. However, in trying to avoid the risk of exposing himself to a guard, he hurts his forehead badly. But, notice what he does about it:
The bump on my forehead was swollen and I stopped the bleeding by lying still and letting it coagulate, then picked away the dried blood except over the cut. It was nothing. I had no handkerchief, but feeling with my fingers I washed away where the dried blood had been, with rainwater that dripped from the canvas, and wiped it clean with the sleeve of my coat. I did not want to look conspicuous.
The words in bold illustrate Henry's stoicism. The descriptions are concise and stark in their simplicity, indicative of our hero's pragmatism and incisive judgement. Henry is able to keep himself safe through a brutally honest and rational analysis of his situation.
So, I would say that Lieutenant Frederic Henry exemplifies all the traits of a Hemingway hero admirably. Hemingway's sparse, writing style certainly does portray Henry's masculinity perfectly. When Catherine dies from childbirth, Henry doesn't break down in tears at the hospital. In fact, he appears not to display any of the visibly common expressions of grief a lover would exhibit. Prior to Catherine's death, his response to the nurse (about the birth of his baby son) is curt, free of dissembling, and matter-of-fact.
"Aren't you proud of your son?"
"No," I said. "He nearly killed his mother."
"It isn't the little darling's fault. Didn't you want a boy?"
Notice that Henry never explains anything. Neither does he complain; he states exactly what he feels, without apology or shame. When the doctor tells him that Catherine has died, Henry is stoic:
"It was the only thing to do," he said. "The operation proved-"
"I do not want to talk about it," I said.
"I would like to take you to your hotel."
"No, thank you."
Here, Hemingway portrays the reticence of the masculine man as a representation of strength. Henry is not without emotion; however, he doesn't give voice to his emotion in the presence of others. Because of this, he is dependable in the event of a crisis. Observe how he calms and comforts Catherine when she struggles to be brave in the throes of agonizing pain.
"You won't do our things with another girl, or say the same things, will you?"
"I want you to have girls, though."
"I don't want them."
Again, Hemingway speaks through his hero in his sparse style. With Henry, there are no long-winded explanations or avowals of fidelity. He simply says exactly what Catherine needs to hear, without embellishment and without apology. Our only evidence that Henry feels deeply about losing Catherine is the moment he masterfully commands the nurses to leave him alone with his dead fiance.
"You can't come in now," one of the nurses said.
"Yes, I can," I said.
"You can't come in yet."
"You get out," I said. "The other one too."
Once in the room, he turns out the light, but relates that it is like saying goodbye to a statue. The novel ends with Henry walking home in the rain. Again, the quintessential Hemingway hero displays perfect composure even in the midst of unrelenting grief.
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