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A Farewell to Arms

by Ernest Hemingway

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What is the language and style of writing used in A Farewell to Arms?

Hemingway's language and style in A Farewell to Arms are best described as sparse and direct.

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Ernest Hemingway's prose style is often considered straightforward. He avoided what is called "purple prose," giving the reader only as much description as needed and keeping dialogue tight and natural. This style was the result of training as a journalist, in which overt poetic technique is generally shunned in favor of sparse, tight writing.

While such a style would seem antithetical to interesting and absorbing drama, it works in Hemingway's favor. In A Farewell to Arms, the prose style would appear to be at odds with what is often a highly emotional story, but the lack of flowery description or melodramatic dialogue helps sell the realism. It prevents the love story between Frederic and Catherine from sliding into melodrama or sentimentality since everything is presented so plainly to the reader.

Even more emotionally charged moments, such as when Frederic prays for God to save Catherine from dying after she starts to hemorrhage in child-bed, are depicted in this way:

The nurse went into the room and shut the door. I sat outside in the hall. Everything was gone inside of me. I did not think. I could not think. I knew she was going to die and I prayed that she would not. Don't let her die. Oh, God, please don't let her die. I'll do anything for you if you won't let her die. Please, please, please, dear God, don't let her die. Dear God, don't let her die. Please, please, please don't let her die. God please make her not die. I'll do anything you say if you don't let her die. You took the baby but don't let her die. That was all right but don't let her die. Please, please, dear God, don't let her die.

The repetition of phrases like "please" and "I'll do anything" alone sells the desperation of Frederic's prayer. He slightly rephrases the same plea over and over, never becoming too flowery or eloquent in his basic desire for Catherine to survive her post-labor trauma. There is nothing artificial about this peek into Frederic's mind either as it reads quite naturally: after all, few people are poets when praying in an hour of fear, as Frederic is here.

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Earnest Hemingway trained as a reporter in his early life and the sparse prose required for journalism transferred to his novels. Hemingway’s 1929 novel “Farewell to Arms,” as in his other writing, employs simple syntax and unadorned word choice. Hemingway claimed that his goal in writing his novels was to “eliminate everything unnecessary to conveying experience to the reader so that after he has read something it will become part of his experience and seem actually to have happened." To this end, after ruthless editing and revision, Hemingway’s published dialogue and prose are scant but powerful.

The dialogue in Hemingway's novels is often simple and relies on the reader to fill in details. Hemingway rarely uses adverbs, as exemplified by this famous conversation between Henry and Catherine in “Farewell to Arms”:

“And you'll always...

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love me, won't you?""Yes.""And the rain won't make any difference?" "No.”"That's good. Because I'm afraid of the rain."

In this exchange, Hemingway packs an emotional punch through simplicity. With no superfluous language or distractions from the narrator, many feel more immersed in the content of what is being said by the characters.

In the prose of “Farewell to Arms,” as in his other writing, Hemingway also employs unpretentious diction and simple syntax. For example, in chapter 34, Henry says:

The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these, you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.

Notice that the only word unintelligible to a child would be “impartially.” In communicating this complex thought about the savage nature of existence, Hemingway’s vocabulary remains simple. His sentences are also short and succinct, each communicating a single thought or idea. This simplicity is evidence in “Farewell to Arms” of Hemingway’s famous writing style.

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Hemingway's style is very controlled, and his language seems simple but is very complex under the surface. He is known for using this "Iceberg Technique." A Farewell to Arms is about love, loss, war, and disillusionment, and Hemingway uses short, simple sentences to convey some of the most profound ideas and emotions in the novel. He does not use many adjectives, and the description that he does provide is vital to the meaning of the novel. For example, Hemingway foreshadows important parts of the narrative with descriptions of the weather. Hemingway often uses repetition to stress key ideas and stream of consciousness to take readers inside the minds of his characters.

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