A Farewell To Arms
Ernest Hemmingway’s ” A Farewell To Arms” is a classic display of literature. The way he develops his characters is ingenious. In the beginning of the story I did not like the way it was going. As I read deeper into the book, “A Farewell To Arms” I discovered the complexity of the characters themselves. I discovered that Frederic Henry was a rather complex character as well. When you are finally given the full picture of Frederic Henry, you realize that he can be described in several different ways. First, Frederic Henry is a round and very dynamic character. You also realize that because Mr. Henry’s mannerisms are so easily recognizable, he is a stock character as well. The point of view in the story is written in first person.
The first person point of view is that of Frederic Henry. The stories underlying theme is identity. Throughout the whole story Frederic Henry is revealing himself to the audience and discovering himself at the same time. A secondary theme in the story is that Catherine, Frederic’s love interest, is slightly crazy. Throughout the story, I was intrigued by the things that Frederic Henry revealed to the audience. While reading the story it was as if you were right there with Frederic, going through the same things he did, and knowing every intimate detail. The aspects that Frederic Henry display are the aspects of a well developed character and a true war hero.
The first aspect I would like to touch on is that Frederic Henry is a well-rounded character. As the story progresses we learn more and more about the character Frederic Henry. Though it may seem like a small point, a good example of how we learn more about Frederic as the story progresses is the fact that he is nameless in the first four chapters. Throughout the first four chapters, Frederic Henry is referred to as “lieutenant” by his peers and “baby” by his girlfriend. Its not until chapter five that he is referred to as “Mr. Henry”. Then we learn his full name, Frederic Henry, in chapter thirteen. Another example of Frederic Henry being a round character is that he is closely involved in just about every part of the story. Of course he would have to be involved in the majority of the story because it’s basically the confession of his life. The entire story we learn about Mr. Henry, and we watch him grow to become a good man. Even when Frederic is not involved in the seen, he is still involved in many aspects of the scene. As other characters converse we still learn more about Frederic Henry and his relationship with each character.
The second aspect of Frederic Henry as a character that I would like to display is the fact that he is a very dynamic character. Throughout the entire story Frederic Henry grows and changes. In the beginning Frederic is part of a group of soldiers. But as the story progresses and he and Catherine fall more into love Frederic begins to isolate he and Catherine from the group. Instead of saying “we” in accordance to his group of friends he uses “we” to represent him and Catherine. Aside from isolating himself from his group of friends Frederic Henry changes from a rather self-centered person to a caring person. Instead of planning for his future and living to fulfill his needs he begins involving Catherine in the picture as well. Not only does he change in respect to Catherine but he changes in respect to other characters as well.
Mr. Henry begins to look out for others needs, particularly in the battles he is involved with. A great example of this is when Frederic gets injured badly he insists that the other soldiers be treated first.(Lewis, 46) There are countless other times when Frederic tries to help other soldiers, showing complete selflessness, but unfortunately fails. Though he failed to save Catherine, he showed major change from the way he was at the beginning of the story when he did all he could to save her. As the story progresses Frederic grows more and more familiar to the audience and his personality becomes more audience friendly.
The third aspect of Frederic Henry’s character is that he is a stock character. A stock character is a character that is easily identifiable by the way they behave. Frederic Henry is very easy to identify. First off he almost always speaks in the plural form. For example, when he buys himself a gun he turns to Catherine and says, ” now we are fully armed”, as if she too is armed.(Monteiro, 71) Another characteristic that Frederic Henry has, is that he is always trying to help other people. Throughout the entire story there are examples of he and his men out on the battlefield, and Frederic coming to someone’s aid. Since this behavior takes place so many times you automatically know that it is Frederic Henry who is coming to the rescue. The event that is most memorable is when Frederic and his men are captured and Frederic manages to help all his men escape. Upon the escape Frederic rows he and his crew for over twenty miles to safety, in Switzerland.(Gellens, 45)
The point of view in “A Farewell To Arms”, is a first person point of view. The interesting thing is that even though it’s a first person point of view, it’s a first person point of view that is expressed in a plural sense. All threw the story Frederic Henry uses the phrase “we” to refer to himself and his group of friends. Another interesting thing is that later into the story Frederic’s usage of the word “we” changes from referring to his group of friends to his relationship with Catherine. The story is also a confession in a way. It’s a confession because as he tells the story he admits to his shortcomings early on. Not only does he admit his shortcomings but it’s as if he needed to expresses his regret for the people he was not able save.(Lewis, 46) The entire story is told from Frederic Henry’s perspective. You see things as they happen through his eyes only. While telling the story Frederic Henry sounds almost apologetic, and when he retells his adventures, he uses a negative tone.
The theme in the story is identity. The whole point of the story is Frederic Henry revealing himself to the audience and essentially explaining who he is. Time after time Frederic lets the audience in on intimate details. By explaining himself and his actions it is easier for the audience to identify with Frederic and put themselves in his place. By putting the audience member in his place, he forces you to participate in every adventure he goes through.
A secondary theme is presented as well. The secondary theme is one that portrays Catherine. Some skeptics think that Catherine’s central theme is craziness. (Lewis, 46) throughout the storyt she is called crazy and is referred to as the crazy one. Catherine even refers to herself as being crazy. An example of when Catherine refers to herself as crazy is when she says, “I haven’t been happy for a long time, and when I met you perhaps I was a nearly crazy.” She questions her sanity again when Frederic says ” I don’t want you to get Scotch and crazy tonight” and the Catherine replies “I am Scotch and crazy”.(Lewis, 102)
Some interesting points about Frederic Henry’s character is that he is actually the antagonist as opposed to the protagonist.(Lewis, 46) The evidence for such an argument is all throughout the story. Time after time Frederic tries to save people, but fails almost every time. Such a quality brings hope into the eyes of the audience but then lets them down time and time again. Though there were several successful escapes and rescues the failures still outweighed the successes. In the beginning of the story Frederic’s self-centeredness is rather annoying and makes you dislike him. Self-centeredness is the quality of an antagonist.
Ernest Hemmingway’s “A Farewell To Arms” was all in all a good story. It displayed the trials and tribulations of an American soldier during wartime. The character Frederic Henry is a well-rounded and dynamic character. The fact that Frederic Henry was a stock character made him easy to recognize and therefore made the story easier to follow. Though the story was told through a first person point of view Ernest Hemmingway kept the story interesting by telling it through a plural first person. The underlying theme of the story was identity. Frederic spent the whole story explaining who he was to the audience. The way Frederic told the story, he made it easy for the audience member to identify with him, therefore making it easier for the audience member to put themselves in his place. An interesting secondary theme is the theme that implies Catherine is crazy. Because of things Catherine says and does the crazy theme seems to fit her personality. Throughout the story there is plenty of evidence of all these things and these aspects made the story even better and much more fun to read.
Gellens, Jay. Twentieth Century Interpretations of A Farewell To Arms.Englewood Cliffs, N.J. 1970.
Lewis, Robert. A Farewell To Arms (A War With Words). New York, 1992.
Monteiro, George. Critical Essays On: Ernest Hemmingway’s A Farewell To Arms.New York, 1994.