The World War I was a great catastrophe, in which 31 countries and 1.5 billion officers and soldiers were involved, 8.5 million of them died, 22 million wounded and more than 12.6 million common people died in the war. That the war lasted for 51 months led to more than 338 billion dollars economic cost . Writers all over the world condemned this injustice imperialism war. A farewell to Arms, by lively and vivid image and terse and refined language, again showed up that officers and soldiers were tired of war. Therefore, this novel came to be one of representative works of the antiwar stream.


Hemingway, and indeed many of his existential peers, believed that the universe is unordered one. There is no God to watch over man, to dictate codes of morality, or to ensure justice. Instead, the universe is indifferent, sometimes even hostile, to man’s plight. In the book, this indifference is best exemplified by the war, an ultimately futile struggle of man against man. There are no winners in a war, and there is no reasoning behind the lives which are taken.

What’s more, Hemingway thinks that the war destroys the human being’s most precious thing — love. It led that those who wanted to love were impossible to love. Although the war had been over, the results of the conflict still continued to affect people’s soul and affection. This novel directly describes people and events in the war, and shows the damaging of war for mankind through the description of Henry and Catherine especially.

There is obvious autobiographical origin in the novel. Like the hero, Lieutenant Henry, Hemingway himself served in the Italian army and was badly wounded in the legs. Having experienced personally the cruelty of the war, he returned home hopelessly. By and by he developed a pessimistic view towards life for a period of time. He was very much disillusioned by the war. He saw the society, he returned, to as one whose value seemed artificial and hollow.


To begin with, in A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway presents us a world of violence, despair and depression, a world of self-infliction and vanity, a world of chaos and inhumanity. Such a world produces a disillusioned society, a tragic world. Thematically speaking, there are three cycles: the seasonal cycle of land, the seasonal cycle of the war, and the seasonal cycle of love. The development of the three cycles finally proves to end with nothing. The ending of the novel, with the death of the heroine and her baby in the hospital and the hero’s lonely return to his hotel room, clearly gives a pessimistic outlook to the novel. Technically, most of the big events or scenes in the novel are playing symbolic function in the novel. Hemingway’s famous “ice-berg” theory is also very well employed in the novel.

Besides, in A Farewell to Arms motifs are images, objects or situations that keep reoccurring throughout the story, and symbolism deals with metaphoric substitution. A Farewell to Arms is strongly saturated in images of nature, many of which serve as recurring motifs throughout the work. Most of them can be found in the first chapter, where Hemingway opposes image of harvest and life against those of death, and this opposition reoccurs in many places throughout the novel. Perhaps the two most impressive symbols in this work are rain and mud. It is raining outside almost every time something bad occurs, such as the army’s

retreat or Catherine’s death, and serves to mark these events as random occurrences, just like rain itself. Similarly, the mud serves as an obstacle to the army in both offensive and retreat, thus demonstrating nature’s hostility to man. Both of these are beneficial in creating an air of pessimism in this novel.

“ But we were never lonely and never afraid when we were together. I know that the night is not the same as the day: that all things are different, that the things of the night cannot be explained in the day, because they do not then exist, and the night can be a dreadful time for lonely people once their loneliness has started. But with Catherine there was almost no difference in the night except that it was an even better time. If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kill. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry. ” [ “ A Farewell To Arms ” Chapter # 34 ]

He escapes from the battle, as himself says, however, he can not completely escape from death; the end of this novel testifies this point. But Henry seems to know the inevitableness of death and hardship, even before Catherine's death. His thought distracts from satisfaction to pessimism, which seems to reflect the great love will be neutralized by the grim reality of life. Indeed, from this point on, Henry and Catherine seem to escape from a force of death that will catch up with them.

“ I had seen nothing sacred, and the things that were glorious had no glory and the sacrifices were like the stockyards at Chicago if nothing was done with the meat except to bury it. There were many words that you could not stand to hear and finally only the names of places had dignity. Certain numbers were the same

way and certain dates and these with the names of the places were all you could say and have them mean anything. Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and the dates. ”

This is the conversation between Henry and the young patriot, Gino, on the ruined Bainsizza in Chapter # 17. We can know from this conversation, to Henry, such abstractions as honor, glory, and sacrifice are not reasons for these catastrophes that he sees around him. What he sees are the names of villages and soldiers, the scenes of slaughters and dead bodies. He thinks the 'sacrifices' of human lives in war is not the slaughter of livestock, the military hero is nothing, the honor and glory to bury bodies in the ground are absolutely wrong. Nothing can be sustained by such pointlessness.


The above discussion effectively proves that the novel express the pessimistic vision of the writer. The making of A Farewell to Arms is mainly based on the author’s true experience in the First World War. The novel truthfully reflects the physical and the spiritual wound that the war brought to Hemingway’s generation. Due to fact that Hemingway writes A Farewell to Wars with famous “ice-berg” theory, his pessimistic works are all very implicit. Unlike those western traditional literatures, his tragedies are quite deep.

Moreover, every character in this novel leads a heartbroken life, and everyone needs anesthetic for their life, no matter soldiers, officers or priests, they all need something to rely on during the catastrophe of the war. With the death of Catherine Barkley, Henry is no better off than the dog nosing in the dust-bin for something to eat but where there is nothing for him to find, nothing!


Course: WESTERN LITERATURE 1st Semester 2010

Assignment on:

Presents a pessimistic outlook.


Submitted by: Kiran A. K. L M.A. (Hons.) Final Roll No. 53

Date Of Submission: 10th May, 2010


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