Paloma's Reviews > A Farewell to Arms

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
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bookshelves: classics-20th-cent, america, war

This was my first encounter with Hemingway, and I liked it well enough. The long, unadorned columns of dialogue felt at times like a script without notes for stage blocking/facial expressions/tone of voice, leaving the reader to infer moods/attitudes from verbal reactions. The detached tone of narration seemed to convey an inner turbulence despite the narrator's avoidance of introspection.

Frederick Henry, an American serving with the Italians in the first World War, lives in a world stripped of comforting societal structures. Organized religion brings him no comforts; marriage is off the table due to military obligations; his family and past life are so distant as to be completely absent from his thoughts.

He copes through drinking and distraction, yet craves human attachment: his whirlwind romance with an English nurse named Catherine is born of mutual desperation. They build an intense relationship out of shared fictions, lying pleasantly to themselves and to one another that their pasts are nonexistent, that they’ll get married, that things will be all right. They incessantly repeat these fictions to one another, as if hoping to bring a better world into being by sheer force of will.

(I’m somewhat puzzled by the complaints I see in others’ Goodreads reviews about Catherine being bland, emotionally shallow, weak, or male wish fulfillment, or accusing Hemingway of misogyny for having written her that way. She’s a traumatized character coping with terrifying surroundings in an unhealthy way. Her insistent self-effacement is tragic. A characterization of a flawed woman is not misogyny! Besides, it’s not like Henry is a shining paragon of healthy coping mechanisms, either.)

When Henry is obligated to return to the fighting, he sees only this: war is completely absurd. There is no end in sight. Basic rules of morality don’t apply here. Death befalls his comrades casually, constantly, randomly. Men die violent deaths while huddled in the dark eating paltry dinners, or walking down an embankment, or at the hands of their own zealously patriotic countrymen. For Henry, wartime rhetoric of honor and bravery rings hollow. In the face of complete irrationality, he clings to self-preservation.

Surprise! The ending is... (view spoiler)

TL;DR: Pain and death in war and love are inevitable for everyone, the end. Might as well go pour yourself a glass of bourbon.
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Reading Progress

April 17, 2015 – Shelved
April 17, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read-classics
April 28, 2015 – Shelved as: classics-20th-cent
May 13, 2015 – Started Reading
May 14, 2015 – Shelved as: america
May 15, 2015 –
11.0% "“I knew 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. Like bridge you had to pretend you were playing for money or playing for some stakes. Nobody had mentioned what the stakes were. It was all right with me.""
May 15, 2015 –
12.0% ""Well, I knew I would not be killed. Not in this war. It did not have anything to do with me. It seemed no more dangerous to myself than war in the movie. I wished to God it was over though. Maybe it would finish this summer.""
May 15, 2015 –
33.0% "He and Catherine co-author a comforting fiction and build their relationship around it:\n "How many have you - how do you say it? - stayed with?"\n "None."\n "You're lying to me."\n "Yes."\n "It's all right. Keep right on lying to me. That's what I want you to do... You're just mine. That's true and you've never belonged to anyone else. I don't care if you have. I'm not afraid of them. But don't tell me about them.""
May 15, 2015 –
36.0% "Catherine subsumes her individuality to a servile kind of couplehood, puts on a happy front to please him:\n "I'll say just what you wish and I'll do what you wish and then you will never want any other girls, will you?" She looked at me very happily... "I want what you want. There isn't any me anymore. Just what you want."\n Also: "There isn't any me. I'm you. Don't make up a separate me.""
May 15, 2015 –
44.0% ""The coward dies a thousand deaths, the brave but one?"\n "Of course. Who said it?"\n "I don't know."\n "He was probably a coward," she said. "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."\n "I don't know. It's hard to see inside the head of the brave."\n "Yes. That's how they keep that way.""
May 15, 2015 – Shelved as: war
May 16, 2015 –
57.0% ""I was always embarrassed by the words sacred, glorious, and sacrifice and the expression in vain... I had seen nothing sacred, and the things that were glorious had no glory and the sacrifices were like the stockyards at Chicago if nothing was done with the meat except to bury it... Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages... regimens... dates.""
May 17, 2015 –
70.0% ""I saw how their minds worked; if they had minds and if they worked. They were all young men and they were saving their country... They were executing officers of the rank of major and above who were separated from their troops... So far they had shot everyone they had questioned. The questioners had that beautiful detachment and devotion to stern justice of men dealing in death without being in any danger of it.""
May 17, 2015 –
72.0% "Detachment; limits to enlistment oaths:\n "You were out of it now. You had no more obligation. If they shot floorwalkers after a fire in the department store because they spoke with an accent they had always had, then certainly the floorwalkers would not be expected to return when the store opened again for business. They might seek other employment; if there was any other employment and the police did not get them.""
May 17, 2015 –
76.0% "“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 everyone 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.”"
May 17, 2015 – Finished Reading

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