What is the authorial purpose in A Farewell to Arms?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Hemingway strove for realism in all his stories. He believed people to be little more than animals in many respects. As a lifelong hunter, he respected the intelligence of animals and viewed mankind as a somewhat cleverer creature but humanity itself as deeply flawed. Yet, even for his gritty depiction of human brutality, his stories have a touch of romance.

In A Farewell to Arms, the cynical and romantic meet. Hemingway's goal in the book is to show that war, despite its romantic ideals and the call to action that many men revel in, is a waste of time. He tells a love story in the midst of ruin caused by battles, bloodshed, wounds, and death.

Frederic, his protagonist, served as a paramedic in World War I, and after being wounded was sent to an army hospital, where he met Catherine, a nurse. They fell in love, but he was required to return to the front lines. To escape certain death, he eventually went AWOL and found Catherine, who was pregnant.

Hemingway's purpose is to show the tragedy of war by contrasting it with the beauty—however fleeting—of love. It seems as if Frederic will escape the death squads that are executing his comrades after the defeat of the Italians. It seems he will reunite with his lover. At the end, it seems their retreat to a peaceful life is proof that war, like love, is only transient.

But death wins again when Catherine gives birth to a stillborn baby, then dies in childbirth. It is a bleak end to an oppressive story, with a glimmer of hope in the form of their love affair. The depictions of war were some of the first to reveal the horror, suffering, and pointlessness of World War I trench warfare.

This book was a bestseller and heralded for describing battle conditions in a way no other book had before it.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

One of Hemingway's more constant themes is a disgust and even contempt for war and the way that it appeared to become a constant fixture of life, both in Europe and elsewhere in the world.  In the book he tries to bring out the pointless and stupid aspects of this particular war while also demonstrating the individual lives of people caught within it and the effects the war has on them personally.

In order to accomplish this, Hemingway presents the war in a more realistic fashion than many earlier and even contemporary authors.  The horror and tragedy of it are presented to the reader in the gruesome description of battle, of the men's wounds and of the honest descriptions of men in their most depraved and most noble states, both of which are brought to the forefront during war.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial