How important is the setting in A Farewell to Arms?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Heralded as Ernest Hemingway's greatest achievement, A Farewell to Arms is a novel whose plot revolves within the setting of World War I's Italian front, a site of humiliation and tragedy within the horrors of war. Working as an ambulance driver for the Italians, Frederic Henry, who suffers from identity crisis as an American on the Italian front, often sees Catherine Barkley, who captures his attention.

With the senselessness and violence of war as the environment in which the characters exist, the love as escape between Catherine, who has lost her fiance to the war, and Henry who is disillusioned, is made possible.  Their lovemaking in which Catherine takes down her hair and makes a tent for Henry offers a shelter from the reality of war; together in love, they are isolated and insulated from the battlefield.  Their attempt to live in the neutral country of Switzerland furthers the motif of escape from the setting of the war front and the death and humilation of the Italians in World War I.  Indeed, the plot of Hemingway's great novel would not attain its credibility without the setting that it has, and the themes of war, individualism, and war are completely dependent upon this setting.