Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway essay

novel / Farewell to arms / Ernest Hemingway / Frederick Henry / Catherine Barkley

Essay Topic:

The concept of Ernest Hemingway’s “Farewell to Arms” and its message to the reader.

Essay Questions:

What experience has Ernest Hemingway put into his novel “Farewell to arms”? How does the main character of the book Frederick Henry resemble Hemingway himself? How does Catherine Barkley change the life and the personality of Frederick Henry?

Thesis Statement:

It may be called a story about war, but it is, first of all, a story about love, hopes and faith. “Farewell to arms” is really a “study of doom” as it has sometimes been called; it is the “study of doom” of Frederick Henry from its beginning and weakness and to its maturity and inevitability at the end.


Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway essay


"You cannot know about happiness unless you have it"


Introduction: “Farewell to arms” is a novel written by Ernest Hemingway and is not just a creation of his vivid imagination but is the product of his own experience, too. It may be called a story about war, but it is, first of all, a story about love, hopes and faith. “Farewell to arms” is really a “study of doom” as it has sometimes been called; it is the “study of doom” of Frederick Henry from its beginning and weakness and to its maturity and inevitability at the end. Throughout the novel Frederick Henry, the main character, converts into a completely different person. He starts as a person satisfying his very own physiological needs, but does not find “himself” in it. He keeps subconsciously looking for “harmony” and finds his “love”-Catherine. Henry says farewell to the arms and all the unhappiness that they bring. It is this “love” that makes him changes the most, the love that gives him hope and faith and confidence that he can come through anything himself. And after he loses it he talks to God and even accepts death as the end of life. He loses his understanding of war and his purpose in it, but gains the understanding of love through pain. Owing to the love in his heart Frederick Henry learns to be a “true” man, to be able to show grace and dignity at any times and hardships and best strong, independent and mature not depending on anything.

Frederick Henry is an American a lieutenant, a supervisor of a group of ambulance drivers in the Italian army. He is a man that does not really know himself, a man with a hedonistic lifestyle. All his life was like “…nights when the room whirled and you needed to look at the wall to make it stop, nights in bed, drunk, when you knew that that was all there was, and the strange excitement of waking and not knowing who it was with you…”[Hemingway, 13]. Analyzing Frederick’s life before falling in love with Catherine it is very important to mention that in spite of seeing him as a “weak and lost” person the readers observes a small projection of the future “maturity” of the character. The brightest example of that is his attitude towards the Priest, a man with faith in God, in spite of anything. The Priest’s views are the ones that deeply touch Frederick Henry and put a start to his different perception of the war and world around him. "…There is no finish to war. War is not won by victory. One side must stop fighting. Why don't we stop fighting…”[Hemingway, 50-51]. Frederick’s admiration of such a person starts his way out of his “unworthy way of life”. The army does not give him this inner discipline he needs so much and is seeking for, but provides only an external illusion of order and discipline. Though he gets wounded, nevertheless he wants the doctors to take care of other people in the first place: "there are much worse wounded than me,” he says [Hemingway, 54]. Frederick Henry is ready to risk his life to save any of his “war brothers” [Hemingway, 62]. Henry searches for the values in his life and gradually he gets ready for finding them. Henry meets Catherine Barkley, a nurse, at the hospital and falls in love with her without even understanding it: “I did not love Catherine Barkley nor had any idea of loving her. This was a game, like bridge, in which you said things instead of playing cards”[Hemingway, 31]. By falling in love with Catherine Henry opens his heart for changes, changes that are provoked by Catherine and start making him an absolutely different man. Catherine teaches him to believe and to love profoundly. Their mutual feelings show that there are things that make the war to be even more pointless than it is. “You're my religion. You're all I've got…" – Catherine says to Henry, giving him the ability to have faith in love and to hope. They become each other’s sanctums.

Inspired by this feeling and tired of their partings Frederick Henry is not extremely scared when he deserts, but it is the fair of execution that makes him do it. He finally finds what he is looking for and if deserting is the only way to stay alive and not to lose it – let it be so. Catherine becomes his only true value that he was searching so badly and he is not afraid of doing anything to stay with her. He puts all his faith in it and hopes for the better. He escapes with Catherine to the mountains of Switzerland showing an outstanding ability to “fight” for his happiness at the customs. Henry understands the meaningless of the war and the damage it brings to his life, he loses faith I everything, except his love. His only meaning and faith is Catherine and their future baby now. Their life together is calm, happy and finally not influenced by war. Nevertheless fate wins in his battle for happiness. Catherine’s pregnancy starts the destruction of their calm life. Her pregnancy goes not well at all. Catherine dies from hemorrhage while giving birth to the child and Henry realizes that he has no control over what is going on in his life, he loses his faith and the reason for living. "What reason is there for her to die?" – that was what Henry asked himself before Catherine’s death [Hemingway, 330]. His confidence in knowing all the reasons and life-values are destroyed by her death. After all, who is he to have control over the events in his life? It seems that Henry is more desperate because of losing his values and faith that in the death of Catherine: "It was like saying good-by to a statue,” he says about her dying.

Conclusion: Henry turns to God for the reasons of what happened, for the reason anything happens at all… but this makes him completely forfeit the least faith in God he has. And through Henry tried to escape death at war it still finds him and takes what it needs according to the laws of life he cannot understand. His whole life and happiness was destroyed by death. By the death that is senseless for the world around him and so important for him. He realized that he will not learn the reasons and accepts Catherine’s death. He feels that no matter what he may think or no matter whom he may need the fate will do what whatever it does and there is nothing about it he can do, but not to need anybody or anything. He is too small to fight the chaos around him. Frederick learns how miserable and not important is whatever a man thinks or wants in his life and that we all live in the illusion of controlling our lives. He learns how meaningless is to depend on anything or anybody and to base any hopes on them. He learns that a man has to find inspiration and strength in his own self and not try to find it in anybody else. Is it really so necessary to have false hopes to LIVE?Frederick Henry makes the reader understand that we do not have to depend on anything to feel happy. He feels it, too. Frederick Henry feels nothing. No God, no hope, no faith…nothing but “doom” and him walking under the rain.


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