Ernest Hemingway Essay, Research Paper
It is noted that the great American novelist, Ernest Hemingway’s, male heroes usually were defined by their ability to face adversity with quiet strength. Most of the characters are displayed as violent and tough men who live in the harsh worlds which they inhabit. They live by a code of honor, which is why they are viewed as the heroes throughout the novel. In his novel, A Farewell to Arms, the characters experience “the chaotic and brutal world of war” (Warren 35).
Ernest Hemingway had written two books prior to writing A Farewell to Arms. Many who have read this third work perceive it to be a biographical novel of the author himself. In the novel, Hemingway writes about a character named Lieutenant Frederick Henry. The experiences Henry faces are very similar to those that Hemingway faced himself as an ambulance driver in the war. Frederick Henry’s character was an ideal illustration of the loss of innocence in this novel. As an innocent young man who goes to war for apparently no other reason than merely to search for excitement, ultimately the experience of the war transforms him into a pessimist who has tasted the glory yet found it bitter in the end. Many critics have strong feelings about Henry as an individual because of his outlook on life in response to the many experiences that he faces with war, love, and death. However, many agree as a result of war, the character of Lieutenant Frederick
Henry experiences a change in his morals and values.
In the novel, Lieutenant Frederick Henry volunteers as an army ambulance driver in World War I. There Lieutenant Frederick Henry learns to deal with his comrades and begins to see eye to eye with them. They discuss how Henry and his four partners take cover in a dugout that comes under Austrian bombardment in Caporetto. A canister shell hits and Henry’s legs are seriously wounded. Although Henry is wounded, he tries his hardest to assist his friend who is also hurt. However before he can attempt to help him, his friend dies right before his eyes.
“Yet even here we must notice that Lieutenant Henry turns
his back upon our society after Caporetto. Following his
personal objectives he abandons his friends, his responsibilities
as an officer, the entire complex of organized social life
represented by the army and the war.” (Geismar 115)
This critic observes Henry’s transformation after Caporetto and all the senseless dying he experienced there.
Hemingway’s personal growth regarding the meaning of love has a major impact in this novel. Lieutenant Frederick Henry’s lifestyle prior to World War I was filled with drinking and having sexual relations with women he neither knew nor cared about. Consequently, it was not until he met Catherine Barkley that he acknowledged his feelings of true love.
“Catherine asks him, after telling him she is pregnant, if
he feels trapped. Maybe a little,’ he answers. But not by you.’
I didn’t mean by me,’ she says. You musn’t be stupid. I
meant trapped at all.’ Henry says, ?You always feel trapped biologically.’ ” (Killinger 104)
It is evident that Henry’s growth with regard for love evolved as he ignored the conventional view at that time of Catherine having trapped him with her pregnancy. Once again the character reflects the real life Hemingway’s attitude towards life. The critic notes that Hemingway himself had come unhappily into fatherhood himself and was not happy at the onset either.
Hemingway portrays death as a tragedy in which the innocent victims discover that love does not triumph. “The pathetic misfortune which Frederick Henry suffers in losing Catherine through childbirth, at the end of A Farewell to Arms, is commonly interpreted as the result of one or the other of two causes, or some combination: he is either as the justly punished outlaw for having clergy, or as the pitiful victim of the arbitrary and remorseless fortunes of war.” (Friedman 105) The author’s treatment of love, like his treatment of death, betrays his own fear of the full spectrum of experiences in life.
According to the critics, Hemingway’s views on life are marked in the novel, but is not completely evident in his description. These experiences, action and
violence in the novel, became complex, and would eventually master Frederick Henry rather than be mastered by him. “Whatever Hemingway’s future reputation, A Farewell to Arms will surely stand for at least another forty years as the best novel written by an American about the First World War” (Baker 175).
Every experience with war, love, and death encountered by Lieutenant Frederick Henry has two sides, triumph and pain. Life experiences influence a person’s morals and values, and Lieutenant Frederick Henry has undergone a transformation by the end of the novel. The triumph of surviving World War I, his injuries, and finding love against all odds changed Henry into a man who was responsible for his actions. In addition, the pains of war developed Henry’s views of love and death and how he dealt with both.