LITERARY ELEMENTSSETTINGThe novel is primarily set in Gorizia, a small town near the Italian-Austrian border, with World W...
Miss Helen FergusonA Scottish Catholic nurse and friend of Catherine’s. She is a moralist and appears ill tempered butcare...
CONFLICTProtagonistLieutenant Frederic Henry, who does not suffer from any grand illusions about honor, glory,patriotism, ...
The main theme of the novel is that war creates or makes a tragedy of everything. Therein, a personhas to bid farewell to ...
A Farewell to Arms is considered a great novel of World War I. It is a complex novel dealing with thetravails of a war-tor...
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Literary elements


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Literary elements

  1. 1. LITERARY ELEMENTSSETTINGThe novel is primarily set in Gorizia, a small town near the Italian-Austrian border, with World War Ias its backdrop. Italy, part of the Allied Powers, is opposed by Austria, part of the Central Powers. Inthe final stages of the war, the U.S.A. supported the Allied Powers. The war was fought between 1914and 1918. The protagonist, Frederic Henry, an ambulance driver and officer in the Italian army whenthe novel opens, is stationed in Gorizia.In Book II, the Protagonist is wounded and is sent to a Milan hospital. Therefore, the action nowmoves to Milan. Here, the parallel theme of love between the Protagonist and the heroine, CatherineBarkley, develops.In Book III, upon the cancellation of his convalescent leave, Henry is sent back to the front, in Gorizia.The novel is now set against not Gorizia, but the awesome Caporetto and the (in)famous retreat.Historically, the Battle of Caporetto was fought in October 1917, between the Italian and German-Austrian forces and as far as Italy was concerned, the battle was an disaster. Caporetto is a smalltown on the banks of the river Isonzo in Italy. Though at some places the Italian army resisted theGerman-Austrian army, it was fighting a losing battle. The battle and Caporetto were lost and theItalian forces were compelled to withdraw. This is called the Retreat, whose details are realisticallypresented in Book III. The setting then is Caporetto, the historically famous small town.In Book IV, the action moves back again to Milan, Italy. From there, till the end of the novel, thesetting is in neutral Switzerland, where Henry and Catherine flee and stay till her death. Throughoutthe novel, the setting offers a striking contrast between the mountains, which are majestic, lofty anddignified and the plains, which are associated with death, decay, and degeneration.CHARACTER LISTMajor CharactersLieutenant Frederic HenryThe narrator and the protagonist. A former student of architecture who has volunteered to join theItalian army as an ambulance officer, because he could speak Italian. An indifferent soldier, he findsfulfillment in love, following his injury and subsequent desertion of his army post.Catherine BarkleyAn English nurse with whom Henry falls in love. Her bodily structure prevents her having a naturaldelivery of a child; she dies following a Caesarian operation.Minor CharactersRinaldiAn excellent surgeon in the Italian army. He is witty, garrulous, highly sexual, has a habit of excessivedrinking, and is disillusioned by the war. A great friend of Henry’s.The priestA real man of God whose faith in Christianity and morals remain unshaken even in the face of theabsolute debauchery of the army. He is a friend, philosopher, and guide to Henry. True love for himimplies service and sacrifice. He is a butt of vulgar jokes in the officer’s mess. He is the Code Hero inthis novel, an embodiment of love, courage, honor and all that is positive in the world, from whom theHero (Henry) has to acquire learning.
  2. 2. Miss Helen FergusonA Scottish Catholic nurse and friend of Catherine’s. She is a moralist and appears ill tempered butcares genuinely and deeply for Catherine. She believes firmly in morals and is to Catherine whatRinaldi is to Henry (a friend, concerned and caring).Miss GageA nurse in the hospital in Milan, a “friend” of Henry’s. Dislikes Catherine but helps Henry a lot.Miss WalterAnother nurse who admits Henry into the hospital at Milan when he arrives there wounded.Miss Van CampenThe hospital superintendent. She dislikes Henry and sees to it that his convalescent leave is cancelledbecause she believes that his jaundice was self-inflicted due to excessive alcoholism.Dr. ValentiniA competent surgeon of the rank of a major, performs excellent surgery on Henry’s knee and restoresits use to him.Mr. and Mrs. MeyersEccentric friends of Henry’s in Milan. They do not trust each other: he with a shady past and she, big-busted and calling every one “dear boy.” Both provide comic relief to an otherwise gloomy story.Ettore MorettiA braggadocio, the braggart soldier. A San Franciscan of Italian descent; twenty-three, a true warhero who looks unconvincing because of his habit of boasting too much about his exploits; disliked byCatherine for boring her.Edgar SaundersA tenor and student of music; has adopted the name Eduardo Giovanni to impress the Italianaudience.Ralph SimmonsAnother music student who sang under the name Enrico del Credo; later helps Henry go to Stresa bylending his civilian clothes and bag.Court GreffiThe ninety-four year “young” billiards player; is worried that he is not devout even at that age; hasexcellent taste in literature and advises Henry that love is religion and life, valuable.The BarmanHe has a wicked sense of humor and works at the Grand Hotel in Stresa. Fishing is his hobby; lendshis boat to Henry to escape to Switzerland and also brings him the important information that he isabout to be arrested by the Italian police.Mr. and Mrs. GuttingenThe owners of the mountain Villa in Montreux where Henry and Catherine live during the wintermonths. They take excellent care of Catherine in the advanced stages of her pregnancy.Bonello, Aymo and PianiAmbulance drivers. Aymo is killed; Bonello decides to be taken prisoner after the Retreat; and Pianiaccompanies Henry till the point of the latter’s desertion from the army.Almost all these characters, with a possible exception of Miss Van Campen, are uniformly good,cheerful, and render valuable help to the lead pair at crucial points in the story.
  3. 3. CONFLICTProtagonistLieutenant Frederic Henry, who does not suffer from any grand illusions about honor, glory,patriotism, or courage, deserts the army by leaving his post. He is wounded in the knee, is in lovewith Catherine Barkley, lives with her, gets her pregnant, but in the end, loses both his son andCatherine.AntagonistThe war, with its devastating effect on the individual’s life, the tragic disillusionment it fosters, and thedespair that is its consequence, is the antagonist in the novel. On a secondary level, biology, thatclaims Catherine’s life, is the second antagonist.ClimaxThe climax occurs in Caporetto where a retreat is forced on the Italian army. Henry tries to put up abrave and dogged fight but in the ensuing chaos, he is forced to desert his post. From now on, hebecomes the hunted rather the hunter and has to live incognito. The action too undergoes a markedchange after the climax. Before the retreat, it seems slow-paced but after it becomes faster and theevents unfold so quickly that they leave the reader breathless. Here the setting shifts from Italy toSwitzerland.OutcomeThe conflict ends in a tragedy that is double-edged or twin-peaked. Henry cannot pursue a militarycareer because he has abandoned his post. There are no more choices for him as far as professions gobecause he had given up architecture to join the army and now he has given up the army too. Heintends to lead a life of married bliss with Catherine and his son but both die, leaving him a victim ofunalterable circumstances. As Henry says, though he lives on after Catherine’s death, his tragic storyhas come to an end. This novel is tragic because it shows Catherine biologically double-crossed,Europe war-crossed and life, death-crossed.SHORT SUMMARY (Synopsis)The novel opens with World War I raging all over Europe. A young American student, studyingarchitecture in Italy, offers his services to the Italian army. In Gorizia, he is wounded in the knee andis sent to recuperate in a hospital in Milan. He falls in love with an English nurse, Catherine Barkley,lives with her, and she becomes pregnant. He returns to the front in Gorizia and is caught in theItalian retreat. In order to save his life, he deserts his post and goes away to a hospital in Milan totake Catherine and go some place where they can start life anew. They go to Switzerland but cannotlive happily, for a fresh tragedy awaits them. Their eagerly awaited son is stillborn and Catherine whocan never have a normal delivery, dies after a Caesarian operation.THEMESMain Themes
  4. 4. The main theme of the novel is that war creates or makes a tragedy of everything. Therein, a personhas to bid farewell to everything she cherishes in life. It revolves round the yawning, aching lonelinessthat exists in the midst of war, which ensures that one cannot even find solace in love. She has to paya very high price for wanting love, let alone achieving it, and most often death forms the most naturaland suitable price one could pay. Though one has struggled hard, at the end of the reckoning, she isleft with nothing.Minor ThemesThe minor theme of the novel is the passage of Henry from a cheap life to a noble one. When heenters the army, he has not many feelings: he is disinterested and disillusioned with the war, eats anddrinks heavily, and regularly visits sordid brothels. He progresses from there to a sense ofparticipation in the war and to an elevated, dignified love life. His initiation into the vicissitudes of war,molds him into a well-adjusted individual, who is competent enough to make a “separate peace” withhimself. His initiation into the pleasures of dignified love convert him from a drinking, debauchedsoldier to a loving, caring husband. However, as the novel ends, the initiation, on both levels,becomes inconclusive and inconsequential. For, Henry cannot make use of it in his future.MOODThe mood of the novel is pessimistic. Tragedy lurks behind every action and, as such, robs it ofmeaning. Men and women, caught in the war, despair and move to bitterness and cynicism.Throughout the novel, a mood of continuous boredom, disappointment, and apathy, generated from asense of inevitability of fate, dominates. The somber mood in the novel, describing the horrors of war,turns tragic, as it details the problems of undergoing a Caesarian section. The mood throughout thenovel is one of disappointment, dullness, and pain.Ernest Hemingway - BIOGRAPHYErnest Hemingway was born on 21 July, 1899 in Oak Park, Illinois. His father was a doctor and hismother was an amateur musician. He was not academically successful and graduated fromhigh school in 1917, near the bottom of his class. He sought to enlist in the army but was rejected dueto his poor eyesight. He went to work as a cub reporter in Kansas City. He was doing moderately wellas a reporter when he heard that Italy was recruiting ambulance drivers to serve on the Italian frontand promptly offered his services. He was seriously injured and taken to a hospital where he fell inlove with an English nurse, Agnes. He was no longer a young man, with stars in his eyes and romanticviews about everything. War, death, disease, suffering, and decay changed his thinking. When hewent back to America, his relationship with Agnes came to an end.Hemingway then went to Paris and was a major figure in a group of writers called the “LostGeneration,” along with Gertrude Stein, Djuna Barnes, and Ezra Pound. He drew on his bitterexperiences and painful memories from World War I and wrote A Farewell to Arms (1929), which wasan instant success. Later, Hemingway went to Spain as a newspaper reporter. He was attracted bybull fighting, a major sport in Spain. He covered the Spanish Civil War. Then, he went to live in Cuba.He participated in World War II on submarine patrol duty. He became an expert on German rocketsand was among the first batch of troops to storm Normandy Beach in 1944. Later, he went back toCuba to deep-sea fish and write. In 1953, he received the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize forLiterature in 1954. After the Castro Revolution, he left Cuba and returned to America. War left himdisillusioned. He was disappointed in love, too; though he married four times in his life, he could notunderstand the real meaning of life and love. He committed suicide in 1961. His literary masterpieces,apart from his short stories, include The Sun Also Rises, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Old Man and theSea, and Death in the Afternoon.LITERARY/HISTORICAL INFORMATION
  5. 5. A Farewell to Arms is considered a great novel of World War I. It is a complex novel dealing with thetravails of a war-torn young man called Frederic Henry. A few details from Hemingway’s personal lifecreep into this novel. For instance, Lieutenant Henry is with an ambulance unit, serving in the ItalianArmy, just as Hemingway did. He falls in love with an English nurse when he is recuperating in ahospital. Apart from these factual details, others in the novel are entirely different from those inHemingway’s life. The novel therefore deals with these two major themes, love and war, carefullyinterwoven with each other. In fact, the title itself suggests these two themes, with a pun on the word“Arms.” The hero, Henry, bids farewell to “Arms” as in weapons and also, when Catherine dies, to theloving “arms,” of a human being.A Note on the Structure of the NovelThis novel is divided into five books, each having eight to twelve chapters. In this respect, the novelresembles a drama, which generally has five acts, further divided into scenes. Each book reveals acarefully controlled action and finely detailed love. For, war and love are the two major themesdiscussed in this novel. When one theme gets into the foreground, the other recedes into thebackground. But the sequence of action runs parallel in both the themes, so that the reader gets thefeeling of having read a single major theme rather than two.Book I has war in the foreground; Henry meets Catherine, participates in the battle, and is grievouslywounded.Book II has love in the foreground, for the wounded Henry is sent to a hospital, meets Catherineagain, and their love develops.Book III also has war in the foreground, seen in Henry’s recuperation and recovery from his wound,getting back to war, getting caught up in a retreat, and deserting his post, a serious military offense.Book IV has love in the foreground when Henry seeks Catherine, who is pregnant, with his child.Book V also has love in the foreground, while war looms ominously in the background, when thelovers escape to a neutral territory, Switzerland, where Catherine dies of excessive internalhemorrhaging after a Cesarean operation.It is also quite interesting to note the flow of action in six phases in the unfolding of the two themes oflove and war. In the war, Henry goes through six stages: (1) a distant and casual participation, (2)followed by a rather serious action (3) which results in a knee-wound, (4) his being sent to a hospitalto recover, (5) his going back to war and getting caught in a retreat, and (6) his desertion of hismilitary post. Likewise, Catherine goes through six stages: (1) an inconsequential flirtation (2) thatdevelops into genuine love (3) which culminates in her pregnancy, (4) her stay along with Henry in aVilla in Switzerland, (5) after which she goes into a hospital for delivery (6) and has the Cean whichresults in her death.By the time the novel reaches its end, the two themes merge and the grimness of war is conveyed inno uncertain terms to the reader.The novel contains a first person narrator. Love and war are seen through his eyes. As such, itbecomes easier for the reader to understand him and sympathize with him when the situation arises.