A Farewell to Arms Critical Overview - Essay

Ernest Hemingway

Critical Overview

(Novels for Students)

Hemingway’s second novel, A Farewell to Arms, is viewed as his finest artistic accomplishment because the subject matter is finely blended with his method. To the critics, by and large, Hemingway had become a master of the short, staccato style of writing by this novel. Further, this mastery made Hemingway the most celebrated American writer of the twentieth century. This celebration is both enhanced and questioned by his reputation as a bold warrior, whose depiction of women is often negative. Such an aura is no doubt partially the responsibility of the movie industry, which felt encouraging his legend and the identification with Gary Cooper would only help the marketing of army stories in general and Hemingway films specifically.

In 1929, when A Farewell to Arms was first released, the critics were impressed because it surpassed his first work dramatically. However, not every critic enjoyed the novel, and many were bothered by its diction. Robert Herrick of the New York World called the novel “dirt” on account of its vulgarity. He was not the only one upset by the then-unprintable words. This led to an edited version of the novel, with words like testicles and shit removed from the text. Fortunately, the dialogue was sound enough without this soldier talk and the novel functioned without them. Still, other critics could not say enough in praise of the best-selling work.

Henry Hazlitt’s review in the New York Sun got right to the point: “In the year of our Lord 1929 Ernest Hemingway is the single greatest influence on the American novel and short story.” Further, Hazlitt put Hemingway ahead of other writers who also employed sparse prose, saying, “Hardboiled novels, monosyllabic novels, novels without commas . . . are like Hemingway.” In a Chicago Daily Tribune article, Fanny Butcher also praised Hemingway's terse writing style. After comparing Hemingway with Gertrude Stein she said, “A Farewell to Arms [uses] a technique which is purely subjective, and a style which is articulate entirely in its bones and not at all in its flesh.” Thus, when compared to literature of the 1920s, Hemingway was a master in capturing the essence of the story and...

(The entire section is 965 words.)