A Farewell to Arms, written by Ernest Hemingway, classically combines love, misery, seduction, and sorrow all in one historic novel. This wonderful novel depicts the harsh realities of war among two lovers entangled in the mist. The main character, Lieutenant Frederic Henry, and his lover, Nurse Catherine Barkley, initially have a relationship consisting of games, illusions, and fantasies. This cleverly ties in with the war that currently encompasses Henry, World War I. The blending of these aspects results in one of Hemingway's greatest novels.
Lieutenant Henry lives his daily life as an ambulance driver for the army. Disillusioned by the war, he meets an English nurse, Barkley, who mourns for her dead fiancé. They commence a game of seduction, each with their own reasons for playing it. Barkley, psychologically damaged from the death of her fiancé, struggles to push the history behind her while Henry tries to stay as far away from the war as possible. After a little while together, Barkley brings up the game they play by saying, "This is rotten game we play, isn't it" (31)? Henry retorts that he "treated seeing Catherine very lightly" (41).
Embodying the stereotype of the testosterone-fed male, Henry also looks for sex from Miss Barkley. He yearns for pleasure in a world filled with despair and death. As the novel progresses, his accounts of the war decline in quality and quantity. Accounts of the war decrease and become less detailed, showing that he continually bothers less with the war. Henry changes from a man living with the war to a man only interested in himself and anything directly related, including Catherine Barkley.
The relationship between the two lovers changes as time passes by as well. Their relationship progresses from an illusion to actual feelings of love. "We were never lonely and never afraid when we were together" (249). Apparently Henry believed love existed when two people felt as they did together. It indirectly affects the war for Henry because as the relationship consumes more of his life, his unwilling grip to war weakens. The importance of it decreases as Barkley's significance increases to him. As time goes on, Henry turns into a man who prioritizes a greater love for Catherine. He throws away his integrity and runs from the army, showing the shifts in his list of priorities. War only existed as something in his way.
This anti-war novel clearly convinces all about the unsympathetic truths of World War I or, more simply, war in general. "The West front did not sound so good...I did not see how it could go on" (118). Throughout the course of the novel, Henry faces the deaths of many of his companions. Upon realizing his love, Catherine Barkley, now must stand at the brink of death, Lieutenant Henry grimly accepts the truth. "They killed you in the end. You could count on that. Stay around and they would kill you" (327). In all his days in the war, he never realizes the death surrounding him until the person he cares for most begins to slip from his grasp.
Hemingway, in his novel, teaches others the psychological features of people, interweaving it with the innuendos of the darkness of war so readers cannot forget the environment and setting that the two main characters feel trapped in. He gives others a refreshing breath from society by denouncing materialism. The idea of denouncing materialism ideally fits in psychologically with the ongoing war. He urges others to reconsider their materialistic priorities for something more genuine. Hemingway never made these materialistic possessions important. Nature, one of the things he embraced, clearly shows its importance when he felt it necessary to write, "The first cool nights came, then the days were cool and the leaves on the trees in the park began to turn color" (133). He felt it necessary to describe the colored canvas produced by the changing of the surrounding trees as autumn came.
As Richard Schickel once said, "A great novel is concerned primarily with the interior lives of its characters as they respond to the inconvenient narratives that fate imposes on them." Throughout the novel, Hemingway remains constant in keeping up the realistic atmosphere he introduces in the beginning and how it affects Henry's life. This romantic literature never ceases to be unfair to the readers' high expectations of works by Ernest Hemingway. As a highly popular and recommended novel, it lives up to the just raves. Pick up a copy of this thoughtful, beautifully written novel. Another book I need to recommend -- completely unrelated to Hemingway, but very much on my mind since I purchased a "used" copy off Amazon is "The Losers' Club: Complete Restored Edition," a somewhat raw, but oddly engaging little novel I can't stop thinking about.