Examining The Life Of Ernest Hemingway English Literature Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

Ernest Miller Hemingway was born on July 21, 1899 in Illinois, United States. At young age he moved to Kansas to become a newspaper writer. At 19 years of age he joined the Italian Red Cross and drove an ambulance during the World War I. In July that year a mortar shell hit him while he was crouching beyond the front line with Italian soldiers. Hemingway was then moved to a hospital in Milan and there he fell in love with a nurse named Agnes von Kurowsky. [1] It is clear that these two events affected the storyline of A Farewell to Arms which was first published in 1929. The novel is about a love affair between an American soldier, Frederic Henry, and a British nurse named Catherine Barkley.

The story is divided into five books. The first one takes place in Northern Italy at the battlefront with Austria. The second book occurs in Milan since Henry was wounded and he then returns to the front in book three. In the fourth book Henry and the nurse flee to Switzerland and stay there until the end of the novel.

The protagonist is Frederic Henry, a young American lieutenant. He serves in the Italian army as an ambulance driver in Gorizia, a small town close to the front. He looks at his service as a job; he does it well but is not attracted by medals of honour or any recognition for his service. Frederic Henry is the narrator of the story and it is apparent that the author has similar feelings about the war as Henry. He narrates the story in past tense, making the story a sort of memoirs and perhaps Henry cannot be trusted completely since there is likely a gap between the actual telling of the story and the events themselves. The author probably chose this type of narration because he served in World War I himself and was affected by it.

Catherine Barkley is an English Voluntary Aid Detachment [2] also serving in Gorizia. She is really good-looking and has beautiful blonde hair. She is highly professional and has a need to aid the wounded soldiers. She recently lost her fiancé in the war and grieves the death of him. Catherine is a flat character; she is a stereotype of the women of that era. She is obedient and wants to have an ordinary family life with Henry and have children with him.

Rinaldi is a well-skilled Italian surgeon serving alongside Henry. Rinaldi portrays an image of Italian men, greeting his best friend Henry with a kiss and calling him "baby". Rinaldi drinks a lot and often goes to whorehouses. Rinaldi claims to be in love with Catherine at the beginning of the novel but once she and Henry start going out together Rinaldi is relieved he didn't get involved with her. Therefore he is being true to himself; he is not a man of one woman.

In the novel there is no clear antagonist except the war itself. But when considering Catherine as a protagonist the antagonist would be the baby, trying to kill its mother and succeeding in doing so.

The story takes place in Italy and Switzerland in 1916 - 1918 in World War I. When analysing the story it is clear that the author knows a lot about World War I; the dates of battles and the retreats are in correct chronological order with other time markers in the story such as Catherine's pregnancy.

Frederic serves in the Italian army along with a friend of his, Rinaldi. They meet a young English V.A.D. whose name is Catherine Barkley. Rinaldi was fond of this British nurse but Henry ends up in a relationship with her that is merely a "game" of seduction. During a show up with the Austrians Henry and the other drivers are hit by a mortar shell. Because of Henry's severe wounds he is transferred to an American hospital in Milan along with Catherine and thus he spends his recovery with her. With Catherine nursing him their "game" is taken to a higher level and they fall in love. Before Henry returns to the front Catherine confesses to him that she is pregnant but he doesn't worry much like she had feared. Shortly after arriving at the front the Italian army has to retreat because the German army has broken through the Italian front. The action intensifies rapidly during their retreat resulting in a climax where Henry is captured and almost executed by the battle police. His decision to flee from his execution is perhaps a bit ironic considering the title A Farewell to Arms. There Henry says farewell to the weapons and at the same time he realises how much he loves Catherine and wants to belong in her loving arms. After running away from the battle police he reunites with Catherine in Stresa where they flee to Switzerland together. There they settle in Montreux and try to forget all about the war. Later they move to Lausanne to be closer to the hospital. Catherine goes into labour about three o'clock one morning and the extraordinarily painful labour lasts until late that day. The doctors then make a Caesarean but the boy is stillborn and later Catherine dies. These dreadful events can be related to the title where Henry has to say farewell to his fiancée and his son.

There are many ironic remarks to be found in the story. For example when Henry leaves for a show up against the Austrian army Catherine gives him a Saint Anthony medal and makes him wear it for protection but he is hit by a mortar shell in the show up. Another example is during the retreat when Henry says "They'll be good to push" [3] about two sergeants but when the cars get stuck in the mud the sergeants refuse to push and Henry shoots one of them but misses the other one even though he had already stated he would not miss with his new pistol.

An important theme of A Farewell to Arms is sexual stereotyping but Hemingway is known for describing female characters as „overly dominant shrews" or „overly submissive confections" [4] 

Another theme is warfare but there are numerous incidents in the story that shock the reader with senseless and unmerited violence like Henry shooting one of the sergeants for running away as well as Henry's near-execution.

This book was really interesting and managed to create a unique atmosphere where love and warfare are combined together. One of the strengths of this book is how well it is written and I surely will look after more of Hemingway's books.