What is the main theme of A Farewell To Arms?

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One of the themes of A Farewell to Arms is the inexorable path of fate. It is fate that first throws Catherine, a British nurse, and Frederic, an American serving in the Italian army, together. When he is wounded, he spends time in the hospital where she is working, and they get to know each other and fall in love.

Their relationship is continually interrupted by the war, another way in which fate constantly intervenes in their lives. After Frederic recovers, he is sent back to the front, where he experiences a disastrous Italian campaign and is pursued by the authorities for his role in the campaign. He and Catherine must escape to Switzerland.

There, she gives birth to a stillborn child and dies soon afterward. It is fate that causes them to need to flee and that causes her death as well as that of their child. Fate takes many forms in this book; Catherine and Frederic's love affair is affected by the war and, in the end, by her health. Catherine and Frederic cannot escape the inexorable path of fate.

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Hemingway's Farewell To Arms deals frequently with the topic of war, masculinity, death, existentialism, and love. The novel's main theme, however, seems to be mankind's inescapable placement against two polar opposites, love and violence.

Henry experiences horror, utter brutality, and gruesome violence throughout his time served in the war. He and his fellow soldiers are often broken down and shaken to their core by the senseless violence that surrounds them. They aim to be traditionally masculine men, brave and heroic, but more often than not they buckle under the pressure.

Juxtaposed against these scenes are passages depicting Henry's limitless love for Catherine. Where war offers acts of violence, torture, and murder, their love offers acts of sexuality that, while physical, couldn't be further from the savagery of war. Furthermore, much of the couple's love comes from the violence; Catherine's fiancé is killed, and she buries her sorrow in Henry. Meanwhile, Henry, unable to cope with the depressing nature of his experiences, escapes from the horrors through his love for Catherine. They aim to escape the war together, literally and figuratively. They continuously find themselves deeply in love, scarred by the war, and unable to escape tragedy.

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When I first read this story, I considered the horrors of war to be the primary theme.  However, there is an excellent link given below to an eNotes page that details all of the themes of "A Farewell to Arms" - identity, individualism, patriotism, and war.  Give that a close read, then give the story a re-read to more fully understand all of the themes.  Good luck!

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