Themes of Love and War in “A Farewell to Arms”

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Theme is a literary element used in literature and has inspired many poets, playwrights, and authors. The themes of love and war are featured in literature and inspire authors to write wartime romances that highlight these two themes. Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms deals with the collective themes in the human experience such as love and the reality of war. A Farewell to Arms is narrated from the perspective of Fredric Henry, an ambulance driver in the Italian army, and pertains to his experiences in the war. The novel also highlights the passionate relationship between Henry and Catherine Barkley, a British nurse in Italy. Henry’s insight into the war and his intense love for Catherine emphasize that love and war are the predominant themes in the novel and these themes contribute to bringing out the implicit and explicit meaning of the novel. Being a part of the Italian army, Henry is closely involved with the war and has developed an aversion to the war. Henry’s association with the war has also made him realize that war is inglorious, and the sacrifices made in war are meaningless.

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Specifically, Henry wants the war to end because he is disillusioned by the war and knows that war is not as glorious as it is made up to be. The state of affairs and the grim reality of the war lead Henry towards an ardent desire for a peaceful life, and as a result Henry repudiates his fellow soldiers at the warfront. Henry’s desertion of the war is also related to his passionate love for Catherine. Henry’s love for Catherine is progressive and ironic. This love develops gradually in stages: Henry’s attempt at pretending love for Catherine towards the beginning of the novel, his gradually developing love for her, and finally, Henry’s overcome with the love and passion for Catherine. Hemingway has ingeniously used irony as a literary device in the novel to accurately depict Henry’s feelings for Catherine. Furthermore, an analysis of Henry’s disgust towards the war, the inglorious truth of war, Henry’s insatiable yearning for peace, and his progressive love for Catherine will highlight why the themes of love and war are the most significant themes in the novel. Finally, the themes of love and war are crucial in imparting the meaning of the novel since the key events in the novel revolve around these themes.

The initial chapters of the novel describe Henry’s disgust towards the situation of the war and his desire for the war to end. In chapter 7, Henry is reflecting on the war whilst sitting in his bedroom and is disillusioned by the circumstances of the war. Henry wishes that the Italian army had a Napoleon, so that the army’s victory in the war would have been guaranteed. Napoleon was a French military leader who had fought several wars, attaining victory in a majority of the wars. Gazing out of his bedroom window, Henry thinks to himself that even though he did not have anything to do with the war, and that he was safe from the dangers of war, he wanted the war to end. Henry is hopeful that maybe one of the Italian army’s enemies would give up and the war would come to an end. Along with seeing his desire for war to end, Hemmingway makes us perceive Henry as a hero which show war as a theme, they sketch him as an American who came to Italy to study architecture, speaks fluent Italian. Although he is not on good terms with the Italian Army.

They continue to support him bank-draft, he writes, he is commission as an army officer in Ambulance Corps and during this time he never disclose his reasons for joining. He is a man of various tastes; he likes sports, takes pleasure in guns, and is proud of his physical skills. Fredrick also enjoys good food and drinks (alcohol) and an abundant amount, he is naturally sympathetic to the working class but also to the aristocracy. He is also observant of relationship among men noting the tension in the officer’s mess or the problems of his Ambulance drivers, often appears passive and dislikes the officers teasing the priest but never intervenes and drifts from city to city and from bar to bar and women to woman during his first leave. It is Catherine who comes to his notice and he falls in love with her without wanting to do so. Henry becomes philosophical and starts reflecting on the futility of the whole human existence after falling in love with Catherine. It can be concluded that Henry impresses the readers as a convincing personality. The personality undergoes a consistent development. All of these characteristics of Henry’s allow us to see him as a Hemmingway Hero and which connects to the theme of war Henry’s character provides us in A Farewell to Arms.

After understanding where the Theme of War comes from in the novel, we also see the theme of love in the relationship between Catherine and Henry. The first time Henry sees Catherine he states for the first time, he is with a woman who is not a whore. This shows that for the first time in the novel, he is feeling true emotions. Henry says God knows I had not wanted to fall in love with her. I had not wanted to fall in love with any one. But God knows I had and I lay on the bed in the room of the hospital in Milan and all sorts of things went through my head but I felt wonderful and finally Miss Gage came in. Because of Catherine, Henry now feels like he has a purpose in life. He discusses the idea of starting a family with Catherine and leaving once the war is gone (115). Catherine likes the idea, but says no because if they were to get married, they would have to be separated until the end of the war. This shows that Catherine is beginning to think rationally and is beginning to move on from her deceased husband. Eventually, the two are forced to move to Switzerland because Henry is in danger of being arrested. Although they are being forced to move, this is the opportunity that they have been waiting for. It is a chance for them to start a family. For the first time in the story, the two are free from the war. They can now get married without any legal trouble or risk of separation. They plan to get married after Catherine has her baby (293) and then move back to America. If this were the case, it would bring Henry back full circle. Unfortunately, it does not happen. When Catherine has the baby, it comes out dead and she too dies. This causes heartbreak and shows truly how much Henry was in love with Catherine, creating the theme of love and the Romanticized War novel, which A Farewell to Arms has that feel.

As we read this novel, we realize the use of the literary element theme of Love and War, it is realized through the love that Catherine and Henry have, and the way Henry perceives the War and is just trying to get out of the war and say farewell to his arms as he escapes from being killed. In conclusion it is clear the themes of love and war are crucial in imparting the meaning of the novel since the key events in the novel revolve around these themes.

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Themes of Love and War in "A Farewell to Arms". (2019, Aug 15). Retrieved December 8, 2022 , from

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