A Farewell to Arms Argument Essay
In A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway portrays the idea that life and war create nothing but hopelessness and tragedy. As he depicts one of the many lifeless men living within the lost generation, Hemingway greatly reflects upon his own life and experiences. The feeling of tragedy is brought about through his portrayal of the dehumanizing and numbing effects of war, the traumatic experiences of the front, the feeling of emptiness and more.
The novel begins with Frederic at the front. As he describes his experiences, he greatly down-plays the destruction and devastation of war with a numbness characterized by the lost generation. When describing the immense devastation of the war, he merely states that “things went very badly,” and that “only seven thousand died” (4). Later, Frederic got injured while in a dugout with the other ambulance drivers. The irony of the situation is the fact that the men were just eating macaroni, when they got hit by a “big trench mortar shell,” which reflects the experience of Hemingway himself, who got wounded in the war while passing out chocolate to the soldiers. As Frederic returned to consciousness and realized his comrade was dying, his training took over and when he failed to save his life, he just “made sure he was dead” and went on as if numb to the fact that he had just witnessed his friend die (55). Traumatic events such as this depict the immediate tragedy of war, but also the tragic effect that caused the men of the lost generation to essentially become emotional zombies.
After being wounded at the front, Frederic was sent to the field hospital and later to a hospital in Milan. To an extent, Catherine’s romanticized idea about war came true in that she was able to care for the man she loved after he had been wounded just enough to get him away from the front. When Frederic stayed at the hospital in Milan, the relationship between him and Catherine began to develop. Catherine emerged as an increasingly prominent character and in many ways helped foreshadow tragedy. While in the hospital, Catherine tells Frederic that she is pregnant, but the feelings toward the baby as a problem or obstacle portrays the lack of emotional ties and the fear Catherine has of upsetting Frederic. Because of her experiences in the war, Catherine is paranoid about losing Frederic and is somewhat delusional in regard to the loss of her fiancé in the war. This constant fear between the two lovers of loosing on another foreshadows a tragedy and causes the reader to anticipate their separation as well as sympathize with the characters. Nearing the end of his hospital stay, Frederic came down with “jaundice” due to his alcoholism and one of the nurses got his leave taken away (144). The nurse had been skeptical of his actions, and had believed that he deliberately got himself sick in order to avoid the front, and in turn got his leave taken away. Frederic had not known that this could be the result of his drinking, but the idea of harming oneself to avoid the front had become increasingly evident and shows how war can dissolve the heroic image of a soldier and, as a last resort, exemplifies the hopelessness felt in war.
Frederic then returned to the front, and the mood had completely changed. It seemed as though the devastation and tragedy of war had consumed the men and the land. Whether emotionally of physically, most of his friends had died or been changed. Once again, the numbness created by the war is shown when the major told Frederic that it had “been a bad summer” at the front, when in fact it had been devastating and they were about to begin a retreat (164).
As the retreat commenced toward Udine, many events portrayed the devastation and tragedy created by war. As they began the retreat, Frederic and the other drivers were told to bring the equipment and other things as opposed to bringing the wounded soldiers to safety (187). This is not only dehumanizing, but also extremely tragic in that countless men would die merely for the lack of transportation. In the long run, this sort of event is traumatizing because it awakens the men to the fact that they could be left behind at any time, which is contrary to the heroic image given to soldiers. Later on, after a series of unfortunate events, Frederic shot a sergeant without giving it a second thought, and Bonello “finish[ed] him” off (204). Afterward, the men joked and laughed about killing the man, and Bonello was extremely proud; the sergeant had been the first man he had killed in the war. These actions and reactions further portray their numbness toward death, the dehumanizing side of war, and the tragedy of the death, along with the mental distortion that is produced out of war. Also along the way to Udine, Aymo – one of the drivers—was shot by their own Italian soldiers. This not only shows the paranoia created by war, but also the traumatic experiences as one of their comrades was suddenly shot and killed. This is not only tragic for Aymo and the people he left behind, but also the men that were force to witness his murder and swiftly return to their journey. Also, this event exemplified the hopelessness created by war as the men’s own army began to turn on them out of fear for the Germans.
As Frederic and Piani neared the Italian army, Frederic was stopped by some of the soldiers and was put in a line to be questioned and executed. With the realization of the death that awaited him, Frederic made a run for it and escaped. Once again, the fact that his own army had turned on him, and many others, conveys the hopelessness created by war. Also, the break-down of the Italian Army itself, and the soldiers within it, shows the tragedy, hopelessness, and panic resulting from the traumatic experiences of war.
As Frederic narrowly escapes his death, he goes on to find Catherine and later, moves to Switzerland in order to escape the war itself. In turn, he is faced with the hopelessness and tragedy of life. As Catherine and Frederic begin their life together in Switzerland, they constantly bantered back and forth, showing their interdependence and their fears of loosing one another. This in a sense foreshadowed the tragedy awaiting the couple and the unborn child. Frederic’s feelings toward the baby as a “trap” and merely a consequence to their actions together reveals his lack of emotion and his incapability to connect with anyone other than Catherine (320). Also, Frederic’s string of consciousness, which shows his immense fear of Catherine’s death, causes sympathy within the reader, as well as anticipation for the looming tragedy. When Catherine finally goes into labor and has the child, Frederic continues to lack any emotional connection to his new-born son, and in turn describes him as looking like a “skinned rabbit with a puckered-up old-man’s face” (326). These feelings and toward the baby reflect the numbness to life and death, along with the grief and hopelessness created by the war and its experiences. These ideas are once again reflected through Frederic’s lack of a reaction to the news that his son was dead and the way he handled Catherine’s death, which was “just a dirty trick” (331). The tragic death of Catherine and the baby are somewhat foreshadowed and anticipated, but the events of their deaths and there after were extremely blunt, reflecting the feeling of nothingness left behind for Frederic, and the feeling of tragedy. This emptiness is shown through Frederic’s cold and impersonal descriptions of her dead body as a “statue,” and the quick, lonely ending (332).
In order to create a tragedy about life and war, Hemingway utilized the sympathies of the readers in order to create anticipation and tension between what the reader wants to happen and what the reader knows will happen (Merrill). Also, Hemingway uses the title, A Farewell to Arms, to allude to the end of the defense and fight in life, resulting in a hopelessness and emptiness. The title could also be interpreted through a more literal standpoint, in that it reflects Frederic’s attempts to escape the war. The overall emotionless and dreary tone of the novel further reflects the dehumanizing, numbing and tragic effects of war. Though A Farewell to Arms is not a conventional tragedy—by the terms and ideas of Aristotle—it is in fact a tragedy that evokes sadness, loneliness and a realness, while expressing the tragedy and hopelessness created by war and life itself (Merrill).