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A Farewell to Arms

by Ernest Hemingway

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What is the conflict in A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway?

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Critics generally agree that assigning a clear conflict in A Farewell to Arms, a title which has a double--even a triple--meaning, is problematic. Henry's conflicts all stem from an essential inner conflict: a desire to attain something that the world circumstances--the reality of world war--make impossible to attain. Such a conflict is that between his life with Catherine and the demands of returning to his assignment on the front or that between his expectations of himself on the front and the reality of what he can truly accomplish there. The painful irony of this conflict is that such desires as devoted love and valor may have earlier been more attainable.

In light of this, the conflict of the novel might arguably be narrowed down to an inner one of Humankind versus Self with many manifestations and variations in Henry's life in a world where reconciliation with reality is as unattainable as reconciliation with inner desire. The farewell to arms that the title envisions is, first, a farewell to Catherine's loving arms as her death is a climactic moment and, second, a farewell to the glory of courage and valor shown by accomplishment in war, which are no longer possible as the justice of war is dissolved. A third farewell may be said to be a psychological farewell to idealized love and the courage, honor, valor, and accomplishment of duty in a just war.

The metaphor for the dissolution of the justice of war may be said to lie in the image of officers tearing off their insignia as they retreat from the "sacred soil of the fatherland" where captured deserters at Tagliamento River bridge were assaulted by "The questioners [who] had all the efficiency, coldness and command of themselves of Italians who are firing and not being fired on." Further, this “command” may arguably be seen as a metaphor for the novel's conflict: Henry finds reality in a world torn by war to have "all the efficiency, coldness and command" of soldiers "who are firing and not being fired upon."

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What is the climax in a A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway?

The climax, or high point of interest of suspense, in Hemingway's novel is the point at which Frederic Henry says his "farewell to arms" by deserting. Ironically, in Chapter XXIX, when the ambulances get stuck in mud, two soldiers who were riding with them refuse to put brush under the wheels and take off down the road. Henry shoots at one of the deserters, and the other escapes through the brush.  Henry, Piani, and Aymo, and Bonello head down the road. As they do so, they spot German soldiers, so they duck out of sight. However, Bonello becomes unnerved and is taken prisoner by the Germans. The other men tell Henry that they never believed in the war, anyway.

There is much confusion in the daylight as Piani and Henry makes their way to the bridge over the Tagliamento river. At the far end of the bridge there are officers and carabinieri standing on both sides. Henry tries to fight...

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them, but the battle police grab him; because he speaks Italian with an accent, they assume he is German. Henry observes that these police shoot one man while they question another. He knows, too, that he is doomed.

The questioners had that beautiful detachment and devotion to stern justice of men dealing in death without being in any danger of it.

When he sees that no one is looking at him, Henry ducks and runs between two men; he dives into the river and grabs some floating timber and rides down river on the swift current. He is being shot at as he floats along. But, finally, he gets onto land and grabs on to the handles of one train car as it passes. In Chapter XXXIV, Henry says, "I feel like a criminal; I've deserted from the army."

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What is the climax in Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms?

The climax comes when Henry escapes after he and Piani approach the Tagliamento River in the full swell of the Italian retreat. The Germans had reinforced the Austrian troops, and the Italians were in full rout. Deserters, or those who seemed to be deserters, were being detained at the bridge over the Tagliamento, then executed on the spot. Henry is arrested, tied to a tree and about to be shot when he breaks free and escapes to the relative safety of the water. He reaches the other side of the shore and more relative safety.His arrest and impending execution by military police, who had that "beautiful detachment and devotion to stern justice of men dealing in death without being in any danger of it [themselves]," comprise the focal point of the climax, which might be said to encompass the entire retreat. It is following Henry's escape that the ultimate course of the novel is set. As Henry plunges into the water, arms are firing after him. When he reaches the other side, after an incalculably long time in the cold water, the arms have quit firing. Henry's sojourn in the water constituted his farewell to arms, symbolized by the silencing of the firing. On dry land again, Henry turns his thoughts to Catherine and away from the war after having said to himself of the war that "It was not my thing anymore."

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What is the conflict in A Farewell to Arms and what are examples of why the conflict exists?

In a novel of this type the conflict usually involves two opposing military powers. The characters, such as Frederic Henry and Catherine Barkley, are little people caught up in a gigantic conflict. Italy was on the side of Britain, France and America in World War I, although it was on the side of Germany in World War II. There doesn't necessarily have to be a conflict between the characters themselves. In fact, too much conflict might be confusing. The story is about how their lives are affected by something much bigger than they are. The same is true even of the great Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace. The conflict there is between France and Russia. Napoleon Bonaparte is the protagonist. In Gone with the Wind the conflict is between the North and the South. In Ambrose Bierce's short story "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" the conflict is also between the Union and the Confederacy. And in Homer's Iliad the conflict is between the Greece and Troy. Sometimes critics look for a conflict in a story like A Farewell to Arms with a microscope, when an enormous conflict is staring them in the face. Wars usually exist because of the machinations of selfish, ambitious individuals. Such conflicts are usually about money. We are all affected by conflicts between powers much greater than ourselves.

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