A Farewell to Arms as an Anti-War Novel
There are indications in each of the novel’s five books that Ernest Hemingway meant A Farewell to Arms to be a testament against war. World War One was a cruel war with no winners; ”War is not won by victory” (47). Lieutenant Frederic Henry, the book’s hero and narrator, experiences the disillusionment, the hopelessness and the disaster of the war. But Henry also experiences a passionate love; a discrepancy that ironically further describes the meaninglessness and the frustration felt by the soldiers and the citizens.
In Book I, the army is still waiting for action, and the world is one of boredom with men drinking to make time go by and whoring to get women. War itself is a male game; ”no more dangerous to me myself than war in the movies” (34). Love is also a game. When Henry meets and makes his sexual approach to Catherine Barkley he is only trying to relieve war’s boredom; ”I knew I did not love Catherine Barkley or had any idea of loving her. This was a game, like bridge, in which you said things instead of playing cards” (28).
Book II describes a slight transformation when Henry, wounded, spends time in hospital. He is suddenly more involved with the war, but, as a release from the war, he now acknowledges his great love for Catherine. The war is never far away, though. Protest riots take place in Rome and Turin and there are intimations that the war is becoming a stalemate, the army disillusioned; ”there was a great contrast between his world pessimism and personal cheeriness” (127), the prospects of victory evaporating; ”the war could not be much worse” (129).
In Book III Henry says (175): ”I was always embarrassed by the words sacred, glorious, sacrifice and the expres…
…aught you off base they killed you” (314). Henry sees clearly the tight connection between love and war, as shown when he compares the dying of his beloved with the dying of his combat friends: ”Or they killed you gratuitously like Aymo. Or gave you the syphilis like Rinaldi. But they killed you in the end. You could count on that. Stay around and they would kill you” (aa).
A Farewell to Arms is clearly an anti-war novel; the story swifts from naive game playing, through the stages of love and hope, to pure despair and an understanding that a war can lead to no winners. The passionate love story of the novel strengthens the message still more by showing the ironic similarity, but also its discrepancy, with the war. The discrepancy is to be taken into serious account, this discrepancy is the important message of this novel; make love not war.