Symbolizing a Journey

 “A Farewell to Arms” is a narrative by an ambulance driver located at the war’s forefront near the German territory. The novels’ setting is in Italy although the troops are scattered all over the allied regions. The entire story is narrated in the past tense giving credence to the feeling that it is based on recollections. “A Farewell to Arms” starts with the winding down of the war with the onset of the winter. The novel revolves around the life of Fredrick Henry as an ambulance driver at the war front and his relationship with Catherine, a casualty nurse in Italy. When Henry returns to the front after the break, he meets Catherine again, who has been newly posted to the British hospital at the front. Catherine has raised the interest of Henry’s friend Rinaldi although they quickly acquaint with each other pushing Rinaldi to the periphery. The two grow significantly closer leading to a game of seduction. Catherine is still grieving from the loss of her lover and seeks to cover the void left by finding a new lover. She craves for love so deeply that she is satisfied with the illusion of it. She, therefore, pretends to love Henry to cover her emotional drought. On the other hand, Henry is a war veteran who is detached and emotionally numb. When he is wounded in the battlefield, he is brought to a Milan hospital to recover and is required to stay for six months before the operation is performed on his knee. Luckily during a surgeon Dr. Valentini offers to carry out the process immediately thereby helping Henry’s recovery. As Henry recuperates, he discovers that Catherine has also been transferred to Milan. He begins the healing process under her. Their interaction results into a romantic relationship as professional lines begin to blur. Catherine becomes pregnant, and Henry is diagnosed with jaundice immediately after his recuperation. The hospital superintendent believes that Henry’s condition is self-inflected and that he is seeking to evade duty at the forefront. This leads to his immediate discharge after days of medication. Upon his arrival at the forefront, the Italian army is faced by the Germans leading to massive casualties including Henry’s co-drivers. Henry watches as mayhem unfolds in the battlefield. Fellow officers are massacred by the advancing German army as other decides to surrender. However, Henry decides to push on with his rescue mission and together with the surviving driver make it to the scene of the ballet. They are confronted by enemy fire and are held captive by the police. He survives by diving into a river and swimming away. His journey of survival takes him to the city of stress where he links up with Catherine and settles happily. Although he is disturbed by the thought of abandoning his men, Henry succeeds in living a beautiful life with Catherine. When Catherine goes into labor one early morning, she delivers a stillborn baby. She then succumbs to hemorrhage later that night. Henry tries to say goodbye to her but is unable. He, therefore, watches Catherine until she breathes her last and abandons her body in the room. The work ends with Henry trudging back to his hotel in the rain. Standard fiction elements have been widely used throughout ‘A Farewell to Arms’ as the narrator seeks to enhance the impact of the events on the reader.

            Ernest Hemingway’s work has incorporated a number of standard fiction elements including symbolism, characterization and themes in its bid to explain the events of the World War 1. His experience as a war veteran helps in conjuring up details that are well captured through symbolism. The novel contains a great deal of symbolism from the start to the end.

            Rain has been used by Hemingway to represent death. Rain has been widely used in the novel as a potent symbol of death. Throughout the plot, there is a feeling that when rain pours, it brings with it scenes of isolation and loss of lives. In the opening of the work, the narrator talks about the massive rain that led to the spread of cholera that claimed 7000 lives in a short period. Based on this part, rain is a symbol of death. As the narration progresses, the impact of rain on the loss of Italian lives is again highlighted. The novel states that, during the same period, the rain compromised the Italian positions and allowed enemy fire to get to them. This led to a retreat that would have been avoided if the rain had not come. Again, here, the narrator uses rain to symbolize death as some of the military personnel succumb to injuries borne out of confrontations that were; as a result of severe weather. He further claims, “I am afraid of rain because sometimes I see me dead in it” (167). In this phrase, the narrator talks about how rain leads to his emotional and psychological death. Again the role of rain in death is highlighted during Henry’s escape to Stress. It rains all night and day as he runs away from imminent death. The dangerous open boat trip across the lake is also in the rain. This means the hazardous nature of the trip as the lake is filling with waves that may capsize the open boat. In the opening parts of the book, rain is associated with death, in the same way, as portrayed in the boat trip only that, this time it is not due to the tides but the winds. It is claims that, in the summer, the land was full of crops and harvests were in plenty. The onset of rains led to winds that destroyed the lands and left trees without leaves. The author uses this part of the book to paint a picture of desolation occasioned by the onset of rains. He also uses the same to depict the genesis of death as the population fights to survive the harsh conditions of the rainy season. Finally, rain portrays death in the last chapter of the book. When Henry leaves the delivery room where Catherine is undergoing agonizing pain, he is met with rain although the sun is trying to appear. The appearance of the sun signifies an array of hope that Catherine will be fine. The sun is immediately overcome by the strong rains signifies the loss of hope and true to prediction, Catherine succumbs to her pains. The author uses rain to replace the obvious. Catherine dies and instead of an emotional downpour; one is introduced to another heavy downpour.

            The riding crop has also been used symbolically to represent Catherine’s’ unwillingness to get over the past. When she meets Henry, she is carrying a riding crop that belongs to her late fiancé. The book uses this to represent Catherine’s past effectively. Through the riding crop, the reader is introduced to Catherine’s; deceased fiancé thereby helping the reader to understand Catherine’s pursuit of love. Her fiancé’s untimely and unfair death is used to show Henry’s shared view that the world is a cruel place, a sentiment echoed by Catherine during their conversation. They both believe that the world crushes the people with courage.

 Officer’s stars have also been symbolically used to represent competence and sacrifice. Through the stars, one can note the level of competence and the amount of sacrifice that one has had to undertake for the country. It can, therefore, be stating that the starts have been seeing as a representation of the officer’s willingness to die for their course. Hair and beards are also used symbolically in the novel. Henry decides to grow a long beard while Catherine keeps her hair long. These two instances are used to represent the pair insulation to the world. At the beginning of their relationships, Henry likes to loosen Catherine’s hair so that it would resemble a tent. This can be taken to represent protection and shelter. As Catherine lives alone in Switzerland, Henry decides to keep his beard as a sign of protection to her.

            Snow and ice have also been used symbolically to represent temporary relief on the pairs’ lives. The two natural features have been sued to represent Henry’s relief from impending death and pains of life. Although snow cannot stop the condition of mortality, it can easily prolong it for a particular period. A good example is when the war is halted due to the onset of winter. Therefore, snow has been sued as a medium for temporary peace and relief from the death. When Henry and Catherine escape to the mountains of Switzerland, they find it covered with snow. This offers them protection against imminent danger from wild animals that would have otherwise been prowling the woody parts of the mountain. There is also the aspect of using clay as symbol for obstruction. This was clearly expressed in the author’s explanation of the events of the battlefields. Mud has been sued to represent the many obstacles that service members faced during retreats and offensives. It represents nature’s hostility to the human population. The presence of mud not only restricts the movement of the service members but also is also responsible for the many deaths of the officers.

            A number of themes have also been employed in the novel. Perhaps the most notable theme of the book is the reality of war. The theme is first captured in the novel’s title. The narrator removes himself from war and leaves the events of the war behind although he feels guilty of abandoning his men at the hour of need. This is also being captured in his exclamation “Let’s drop the war,” “There’s no place to drop it,” “Let’s drop it anyway.” (Ernest 5.43-45), throughout the novel, the reader is introduced to the grim realities of war. Every event is lace with the desolation and destruction that is brought about by war. Henry’s’ relationship with Catherine is significantly hindered by war. The country’s development is pegged on the effects of the war while Henry’s future cannot be decided without factoring the direction of the war. Although the novel is not condemning war, it is pointing an accusing finger at the proponents of war as agents of social disintegration. The narrator indirectly accuses the existing political powers as the main forces behind rampant loss of lives from military confrontations. War is widely covered in the book till the end where Henry leaves Catherine’s body to head back to the hotel where he will consider going back to the ballet field. Another important theme that is widely spread thorough the novel is love and pain. The interesting relationship between Henry and Catherine is being filled with joy and pain. The two are introduced to each other through painful circumstances. When Catharine is introduced to Henry, she is recovering from the death of her fiancé. She is, therefore, undergoing emotional pain. Henry’s relationship with Catherine is a product of close contact during his recuperation at the Milan hospital. He has undergone surgery and needs to heal before he can head back to the battlefront. Henry suffers a different form of pain from Catharine. While Catherine is nursing emotional pains, Henry is nursing physical pain as he has become numb to emotions. As they grow closer, the relationship grows leading to a presumed marriage “You don’t have to pretend you love me (Ernest 45).” The product of a marriage is a stillborn. However, the message is effectively communicated throughout the novel as the reader comes to learn of a romantic relationship between Henry and Catherine. The death of the child also makes another face of pain where the two individuals undergo the same kind of pain in equal measure. This is the first instance where Henry and Catherine share the same pain. The narrator gives a moving account of Catherine’s agonizing pains before the birth of the child and her subsequent feats of pain. His wife’s pain moves Henry that he resolves to stay by her side “We won’t quarrel, baby. I love you too much. But don’t be a fool.” (Ernest 66). There is an aspect of emotional connection that connects the two individual’s response to pain.  The subsequent death of Catherine adds more pain to Henry as he trudges back to the hotel room. The novel highlights the flow of pain in the successive events that completely turn Henry’s world upside down in a span of twenty-five hours. There is an aspect of illusion when the two individuals first meet. Catherine believes that her dead fiancé was the correct person for her, and no one can replace him. Henry has undergone major battles that his emotional paella is dead and believes no one can reinstate it. Because of their strong beliefs, the two are involved in a game of illusion trying to lure each other into their lives.

            Masculinity is also another major theme in the novel. Any reader would likely establish a link between Henry’s domineering role and his near immortality status. While Catherine is seen as the one undergoing most of the pains, Henry is described as a muscular individual immune to emotional pains. Even after the loss of Catherine, Henry does not sit down and weep but instead elects to move back to his hotel room to make plans for the next move. Masculinity is also present in the way men are being portrayed throughout the novels. It is vital to note that all the major characters in the novel are men except Catherine. It is also notable that all the senior military officials have male names. None of the people exposed to danger are feral. So this gives credence to the feeling that the story sees masculinity as a way of defining man. It is also a representation of an ideology that, men are made to endure much pain compared to women. After Catherine’s death, Henry is left to wander in the emotional wilderness as he tries to find his footing. The entree story is being built on presenting man as an ideal force in the society and the family setting. It gives much emphasis on the role of men in the society and their importance. 

There is also the theme of loyalty and abandonment. The first instance of loyalty and abandonment is highlighted in the meeting of the two characters. Catharine remains faithful to her dead fiancé while Henry is loyal to his friend Rinaldi. However, after periods of staying close, the two abandon their loyalties and become loyal only to each other. Henry escapes his loyalty to Rinaldi and starts dating his love interest while Catherine abandons her fiancé and puts up with Henry.

The theme of abandonment is also apparent when Henry runs away from the battlefield leaving behind some of his men. This action remains to haunt him until the end of the book. Another case of abandonment is explored in the Milan hospital when the medical superintendent insists that, Henry is faking his condition, therefore, must be taken back to the battlefield. In this case, the superintendent abandons her patient whom she swore to protect after training. The abandonment of nursing beliefs as expressed by the superintendent helps in the projection of the theme of loyalty and abandonment.

Work Cited

Hemingway, Ernest, “A Farewell to Arms.” Scribner. 1929

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