Meg's Reviews > A Farewell to Arms

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
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Nov 18, 2008

it was ok
Read in November, 2008 , read count: 2

I feel like awarding the great Hemingway only two stars has officially consigned me to the seventh circle of literary hell. But I must be honest. By this website's criteria two stars indicates that a book is "okay" - and to me that describes this work perfectly.

Hemingway himself is undeniably gifted. I love his succinct style (though at times it degenerates to downright caveman-speak), his honest diction and his wonderful sense of humor. That being said, he gets away with utterly ignoring most rules of writing - which I admire at times, but let's face it, some of those rules are there for a REASON. This book is overflowing with extreme run-on sentences, constant use of qualifiers (I think "very" might actually be his VERY favorite word), adjectives (even NOUNS!) used four or five times in the same paragraph, and long stretches of dialogue involving more than two speakers with absolutely no indication of who is saying what (if I hadn't been reading a library book, I would have color-coded the darn thing!) And besides style, the story itself just didn't grab me. I didn't give two farts about the self-absorbed, unthinking, unfeeling protagonist or his codependent, psychologically damaged doormat of a girlfriend. This is NOT a love story. In fact, I feel sorry for anyone who thinks it is. Men who hate women are incapable of writing love stories. And for the life of me, I can't derive a theme - or even a general POINT - to this book... unless mayhap it is "stupid, senseless tragedy happens sometimes to people you don't care about." I did feel like crying several times while reading, though... but only because of the mention of alcohol on almost every page of text... I could literally HEAR Hemingway drinking himself to death. It broke my heart.


"We walked to the door and I saw her go in and down the hall. I liked to watch her move. She went on down the hall. I went on home. It was a hot night and there was a good deal going on up in the mountains. I watched the flashes on San Gabriele. I stopped in front of the Villa Rossa. The shutters were up but it was still going on inside. Somebody was singing. I went on home." (FOR THE LOVE WILL SOMEBODY HELP THIS GUY GET HOME????)

"I came up onto a road. Ahead I saw some troops coming down the road. I limped along the side of the road and they passed me and paid no attention to me. They were a machine-gun detachment going up toward the river. I went on down the road." (FOR THE LOVE WILL SOMEBODY HELP THIS GUY GO ON DOWN THE ROAD???)

And now that I've slammed him so hard, here is a glimpse at the genius that allows him to get away with it all.


"If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry."

"They were beaten to start with. They were beaten when they took them from their farms and put them in the army. That is why the peasant has wisdom, because he is defeated from the start. Put him in power and see how wise he is."

"The coward dies a thousand deaths, the brave but one... Who said it?... He was probably a coward. He knew a great deal about cowards but nothing about the brave. The brave dies perhaps two thousand deaths if he's intelligent. He simply doesn't mention them."

"Life isn't hard to manage when you've nothing to lose."

"I was blown up while we were eating cheese."

AND MY FAVORITE SCENE: (His friend Rinaldi begins the dialogue)

"Loan me fifty lire."

I dried my hands and took out my pocket-book from the inside of my tunic hanging on the wall. Rinaldi took the note, folded it without rising from the bed and slid it in his breeches pocket. He smiled, "I must make on Miss Barkley the impression of a man of sufficient wealth. You are my great and good friend and financial protector."

"Go to hell," I said.

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Comments (showing 1-46 of 46) (46 new)

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message 1: by Félix (new) - added it

Félix Oh Meg you nailed it!

message 2: by Jason (last edited Jan 26, 2009 05:47PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jason i disagree.

Hemingway's style is its own seperate entity. You can go on hee-hawing the fact that we need RULES in literature, but they are there to abet the conveyance of ideas. We need RULES in some essays and how-to manuals. Literature is meant to be conceived for its aesthetic prowess. The ideas of syntax, meter, rhyme, cadence, structure, narrative style and even the way dialogue is delivered are meant for form, they are meant to embody and deliver an essence. Sometimes that essence is exact. It's not reality. The point is that they are delivering a method for understanding something beyond what is projected.

If it's that confusing, it was probably intentional. the way that the dialogue is not demarcated, and the descriptions are terse and mundane, also the lengthy descriptions of his seemingly mundane walks are meant to convey very deliberate ideas. The dialogue is choppy because he wants to show that there is tons of subtext existing in every scene. From the "go to hell" line to every "we have a fine time, don't we?" there are waves of drama pouring through the characters. The long descriptions of the boring parts of his escapade cater to the ways he is distracting himself, the facts and details he juggles to stay away from reality. He never elaborates that much on anything, he never extrapolates much thought on any portion of the war, because he is not a philosopher. He is a child. The only very introspective scene that is not delivered in dialogue is the above quote, "If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry." This is not an arbitrary quip about existence, it is a lesson. He does not go through the book blabbing these out like a robot Bartlett's.

He went into war to find a truth about life and what he found is that anyone special is defeated by the corrupt capacity of this world to exploit them for the efforts. He exploits the potential for love. He falls in love. When his love dies, he begins to die. He learns before he begins to die this lesson, that he will die too. This bringing of consciousness could have been delivered in the typical modernist technique of a man (or woman) going through a point of self-discovery and consciously elaborating all of this to the reader. But if the whole world is empty, because it is a vacuum; where does a writer get the rights to exploit his readers into dying faster. If this lesson is true. If the "world breaks the courageous," then wouldn't it better to be dumb. To be confused and bewildered, to be inept and callow and weak and frightened?

I don't know. You tell me.

message 3: by Meg (new) - rated it 2 stars

Meg I LOVE your ideas. I must say, they definitely got me to think a little deeper about his (what seemed to me) absence of introspection. Perhaps it's not that he CAN'T come to his own conclusions about things, or tune into his own thoughts and feelings, but that he's chosen not to? That doing so would be pointless? Or unbearably painful? Wow... that's actually even more depressing. But also more powerful. Which might be Hemingway's point about life-- it's depressing and powerful. I don't know, there's still so much about this book that I can't fit my brain around.

I do occasionally have this feeling that his style is amazingly profound, just that I can't quite connect with it yet. Almost like I haven't lived enough, or seen enough of life the way that he sees it, so I can't internalize it. YET. I know this because when I read it in high school, I HATED it. I thought it was completely pointless. And with this read, I at least got little glimmers of enlightenment, and an overall sense of concepts whizzing by just out of my reach. Maybe if I read this when I'm eighty, it'll be my favorite book of all time.

I love minimalistic styles because they tend to ring truer, to feel more honest and simple. It's definitely better to play it subtle than overdo it, as far as I'm concerned. I hate it when artists slap me in the face with themes and epiphanies. But (on the other hand) I still can't escape this feeling that an abstract artist just painted the bottom left corner of the canvas red, plain and simple, and now he's sitting there laughing at all of us book-club groupies with our complex analyses.

Jason wrote: "i disagree.

Hemingway's style is its own seperate entity. You can go on hee-hawing the fact that we need RULES in literature, but they are there to abet the conveyance of ideas. We need RULES in..."

message 4: by Jason (last edited Jan 27, 2009 11:37AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jason I don't think that he can't or chooses not to be introspective. I think the Lieutenant Henry character is just superficial before he begins to be enlightened by certain aspects of reality within the war. There's a problem in Hemingway's style that i think you nailed on the head comparing it to abstract expressionism.

There's a scene in the film adaptation of “Bullet in the Brain” (can’t find it on youtube anymore, drag) where the character shows a room full of writers a very eloquent painting of an old woman looking sad. The painting was by Picasso. He made a point that until you do this, you can't do any of the weird stuff. Until you prove you can do this, the height of simple true depiction, you can't try to dissipate with experiments. While arguing that way does filter out some of the bad experiments, I still think this argument is absurd, like to say only someone who could build a camcorder should be able to use it. Rather, after the camcorder has been constructed, it should allow the freedom of anyone who can to ponder new stresses in creation—not withholding.

The idea in abstract expressionism stems from the plight of the surrealists and the dadaists, who seeing the devastation of World War I rejected the enlightenment and decided, intentionally to question the entire aspect concerning art. We have this movement to thank for our modernism and the way in which artists can experiment with the way "things are supposed to be."

Hemingway's style is indicative of the crossroads, it is written at that point in literature when the Golden Age of modernism was beginning and the age of idealism was being hardened by the real. It has a lot of the same aspects of an idealist's plot. It contends to match the dream with reality, the dream of bravado and spectacular engagement with existence and not just folklore.

Though Hemingway, having been a part of that war, knew the truth. Knew the reality in at least so much as to say that heroism is a sham. I believe the book reflects this and does so abiding to the style of the time, a romance-lore embedded with the theme of self-discovery, but at the same time cynical in how all that romance is not practical. Both charaters are aware of it as well, but refuse to admit it caught in this romantic fury that ended with the war they were in. It's very subtle how he lets this on, because seemingly it's all a bunch of inane, unnecessary details. When you really look at what is happening to the character--not in how he tells the story, but in how he reacts--from disinterest to disgust to apathy. It is very telling about a sad departure from an imagined hope he had.

Although a lot of people say that Hemingway is just “dick lit” like Kerouac and Henry Miller. Any male writer who wrote about avid sexuality and made weak female characters. Maybe that is sexist—but nevertheless it is their personality. Rather than rile against them, it would be more amazing to see the rage in their critics be transferred into sexually prominent heroines with a flare for dominance and flaws of their own like Anais Nin or Jan Beatty or Judith Rossner did. Censorship is the end of imagination. But creation is the fulfillment of it. I’d rather see battles than calls to burn books.

Besides, hemingway’s not that bad. As a friend put it. You need to read his short stories to get any sense of him at all. His books are practically fodder comparatively.

Meg wrote: "I LOVE your ideas. I must say, they definitely got me to think a little deeper about his (what seemed to me) absence of introspection. Perhaps it's not that he CAN'T come to his own conclusions a..."

Sara thank you :) I agree but I gave it three stars. maybe I should change it...

message 6: by Erin (new) - rated it 1 star

Erin Gill I couldn't agree more with you. You've said everything that I was thinking when I (unfortunately) read this wreck of a novel.

Boone Great review. I didn't like it either for exactly the same reasons.

William Marsolek if you still want to find a way to absorb yourself into his style, i recommend 'hills like white elephants.' Its a short story, probably not 5 pages long. Like any author, you should give him the benefit of the doubt. Read the short story a four or so times. First time, it wont make much sense, second, you'll have a hint of what he's getting at, but you may not be able to make a succinct thought. After the third, hopefully the story will reveal itself to you. The fourth time will be fantastic. hint: pay special attention to the setting.

message 9: by Meg (new) - rated it 2 stars

Meg William wrote: "if you still want to find a way to absorb yourself into his style, i recommend 'hills like white elephants.' Its a short story, probably not 5 pages long. Like any author, you should give him the ..."

Excellent suggestion, William! I actually have already read Hills Like White Elephants - and I did love it. I find that I always appreciate Hemingway more in short stories than longer fiction. Wonder why that is...

Someday I want to get to Old Man and the Sea - I hear that is his masterpiece. What do you think?

William Marsolek Meg wrote: "William wrote: "if you still want to find a way to absorb yourself into his style, i recommend 'hills like white elephants.' Its a short story, probably not 5 pages long. Like any author, you shou..."
Oh yeah, that one truly is great. It was the first I read of him, and to date ranks high in my list of favorite novellas. There's so many similarities to Steinbeck's the pearl it's almost eerie. It was written about 30 after Farewell to Arms, so his style is much less ostentatious (when I read Farewell and the Sun Also Rises, I could help but notice the rigid 'oh-look-at-me-I'm-Hemingway-breaking-all-the-rules-like-a-badass-mangenius' aspect to his style) and a bit more mature. Its much more smooth and, as much as was possible for the man, humble. But, as always, a crushing read.

Talia I couldn't have said it any better!

message 12: by D.C. (new) - rated it 2 stars

D.C. Gallin I totally agree. "unfeeling main protagonist and doormat of a girlfriend" you nailed it indeed! I didn't finish it, another overrated "classic".

Claire Meg, you are so on the money that it's not funny. This review also made me laugh out loud, which I desperately needed today. This book confirmed for me that the only Hemingway I can stand is the amazing short story, "Hills Like White Elephants", in which his typically terse dialogue to great effect, constantly drawing your eye to what is between the lines.

Jessi I laughed because this is exactly how I feel about this book. It isn't a love story, it's about two people who barely even cared about each other. I'm not sure if Hemingway is trying to convince us that they were in love or if they were trying to convince each other, but I didn't buy it. It's tough to review classics because we feel like we're "supposed" to find this book to be completely amazing. Your review was right on the money for me.

message 15: by Anna (new) - rated it 2 stars

Anna Exactly. You said pretty much everything there is to say. I also found funny how much emphasis he makes on food. He mentions what they have for breakfast, lunch and dinner almost everyday.

message 16: by VJ (new) - rated it 2 stars

VJ Oh my goodness! My sentiments exactly! If you've seen "Silver Linings Playbook" where the protagonist burst into a shocked reaction and threw the book out the window, I thought, "Yes! That's just how I reacted too!"

message 17: by Aronz (new) - rated it 1 star

Aronz I read your review before I started the book and wish that I had taken it more seriously. If I would, i could have saved myself the unpleasant experience.

message 18: by Dgm (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dgm I think you are thinking way too hard about this and need to chill out. Hemingway made a great story and yes it is in fact a love story, just because it is expressed in a different way than you would expect or than you would get from Nicholas Sparks doesn't mean it isn't good.

message 19: by Lori (new) - rated it 1 star

Lori Completely agree with all you said in your review. I hate "instant couples" with a passion and had I known this book was based on that, I wouldn't have read it. I also had a hard time trying to decipher who was speaking in his crazy dialogue!

message 20: by Lyndsey (new)

Lyndsey Hilarious, made my day. Thanks for your wit!

message 21: by Hal (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hal I don't know that I agree with you, but I admire someone who is willing to go against the the flow in reviewing a book. I have my doubts when reviews begin appearing as if written by lemmings.

Yakub Medici 1. There are no rules of writing. None. Especially not in the English language. Especially not in a novel. Great writers never follow "rules."

2. Hemingway hated women? This is news to me. I always thought his female characters were fleshed out and jus as strong as the men.

Laura Richardson I totally see where you're coming from.

message 24: by Krishna (new)

Krishna Jason wrote: "i disagree.

Hemingway's style is its own seperate entity. You can go on hee-hawing the fact that we need RULES in literature, but they are there to abet the conveyance of ideas. We need RULES in..."

Your writing is a GOOD LITERATURE. But Hemingway often is not as sensitive being as you assume.

message 25: by Mustafa (new)

Mustafa Alkammoun I don't think we're in a position to judge how sensitive the man was. This is war, and a semi primitive war if I may say. There is a reason for the saying "there are no winners at war".

I love Hemingway, I read this novel a few years ago and I just picked it up again. And it still feels like I'm reading it for the first.

Steve Collinson Loved the review. Made me chuckle more than the book

message 27: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy I felt somewhat the same as you did but didn't have the courage to admit it.

Valerie Hemingway in my opinion, was simply starting aimlessly writing about his own experience in the war, a heartless and cold and shallow man with no emotion depressed...but excellent and his perseverance in his writing! For that I give him A+ I hated how he portrayed Catherine Barkley a woman obsessed with him to the point of losing herself..I've read a Moveable Feast about him and Hadley his wife, and he's just written about themselves in this A Farewell to Arms..even that part where Catherine says, let's grow our hair the same so we are the same person, was like their true life! Ahhhhyyyyya
My 2 cents!

Elec Presnell I think this is the most honest love story out there...

message 30: by Alex (new) - added it

Alex Deane On the first of your "for the love of"... points: the reason that we have that interlude in which he stands outside the Villa rosa is that we are being shown Henry's growing attachment to her, to the exclusion of his past life. Before her, he would have been in the brothel with the other officers, singing and staying a while. After he leaves Catherine - after a relatively chaste bit of courting - he hears the singing, knows what's happening, and has the opportunity to call there at the VR once again - and doesn't take it.

Blaire Lauren I would like give you a standing ovation for this review, honestly, because I don't think I could've said it better myself. Brava.

Siran Thank you for being honest. I have been hating my time reading the book, but was too ashamed to say that out loud.

Yarslov I agree with you 100 percent. I was dying myself while reading this book.

message 34: by Krishna (new)

Krishna Few people are able to have an opinion about a book they read, like most other things. They depend on others for it.

message 35: by Laura (new) - rated it 1 star

Laura Lucero I couldn't agree more with you. This book was horrible and I forced myself to finished it.

message 36: by Fufublade (new)

Fufublade You do realize that:
1. Hemingway wrote during a period of time where such grammar rules were scarcely used. Every year, the rules are edited and tweaked.
2. His work was edited by one of the greatest editors of all time. In fact, if you google search his name, it states "He has been described as the most famous literary editor." So if there really were that many mistakes then it surely would've been caught.
3. He didn't write his book to become legendary thoughout the ages, he wrote it to please the audience of the PRESENT which he definitely achieved. Writing preference of this time differs from that of his time.

message 37: by Neal (new) - rated it 5 stars

Neal I'm glad I didn't have to read it in school, it would have had no meaning or connection then. Now approaching my 40th year I can relate more. It is a book to read after you have lived and lost in life and then you will understand it more.

I would recommend reading his own 1948 introduction to the novel as well.

Coming from another mans perspective I can say this is exactly how my mind would run through those situations and the writing while sometimes overly flowery is some of the best I've read. He reminds me a bit of Tolstoy in parts. I think if you've experienced death in your life you can relate more easily with both authors.

Contrarian Person If you want to experience Hemingway style, I recommend "Old man and the sea" - a deceptively simple yet satisfying book. I didn't enjoy the writing style in Farewell to Arms either - a bit too drab for my liking. I recently finished reading a bunch of Graham Greene books and the contrast is striking (precise prose, strong characterization, religious overtones etc). There are moments of brilliance in Farewell to Arms but they are few and far between.

Holly Griffith Meg you give voice to my very own thoughts.

message 40: by Morgan (new)

Morgan Yanco I agree to an extent. His constant repetition, ""I came up onto a road...troops coming down the road. I limped along the side of the road.... I went on down the road." creates redundancy. However, I believe in the point of view that this was written in, although redundant, fits the character, especially in the time period. Because a soldier during WWI, most likely had other ( more important) things on his mind than the subjective opinions of how this worsened their experience with his novel. I would venture to give this a more suitable 3 stars, because it was good or at least slightly better than "okay"..

Brendan Thank you for your thoughts. Now, I don't feel depress about finally reading Hemingway, and not liking it.

message 42: by Erin (new) - rated it 2 stars

Erin Dugan I couldn't have said it better myself!

Mihaela Guţu I just can't agree with you. Hemingway's known for his unique style and THIS is exactly his style. If you say that you don't like it, then you don't like Hemingway. Those passages of Henry going home or down the road aren't written like this for no reason. I think he repeated all those things to underline something. For example, the passage when he's going home. I think Hemingway wanted to say to us that the villa he lives in is not exactly his home. And when he meets Catherine, he finds out what being home means. And villa Rosa wasn't his home.
If you like Hemingway, you don't have to judge him like this. He does everything in purpose. All his words are there because they have a reason to be there. As you've noticed, most of his sentences are short, very short and he avoids the loooong descriptions.
And the thing with alcohol. Yes, Hemingway drank a lot in his life. But this is not why he wrote about the book the way it is! He wrote it because it was the reality of war and EVERYONE on the front just had to drink alcohol to have the courage to go there without the fear of being killed. I think Henry continued to drink after he had escaped because of the "war habit", if I can say so.
I think if you read the book once again and pay attention to the passages that you didn't like, you will change your mind. Good luck!

message 44: by Ravi (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ravi Khanapurkar Well said Mihaela


message 46: by Ryan (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ryan Cortes Thank you for this review, I've been saying this about this book for the longest time, you hit on every point ! The book is just not articulated well and is not a very good story I think it is highly overrated

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