Themes of Love and War in A Farewell to Arms
Commenting on A Farewell to Arms. Norman Friedman observes that though Hemingway has successfully tried to blend the two themes of love and war into one story, it is primarily a love affair. According to him, the story has been divided into five Books Book 1 and a major portion of Book III deal with the war, but the remaining portion of the Book deals with the love affair. But truth to be told, love and war get interlinked with each other in such an unusual way that deserves accolades. As the title of the novel makes clear, A Farewell to Arms concerns itself primarily with war, Hemingway’s artistic creation is never independent of his life experiences, and his personal beliefs. “After ten years of meditation and “digestion” of his experience, Hemingway lays before his readers a work which is far from a mere war experience, nor a story of love and death during the war”, says Baker,
With his unique artistic method and style, his profound writing technique, Hemingway describes vividly the cruelest slaughter in human history as well as its impact upon the human psyche. A Farewell to Arms is a war novel, not in the sense that it glorifies the war, but as all know, it describes the cruelty, madness of the war which deprives human life and happiness.
In A Farewell to Arms, the majority of the characters remain ambivalent about the war, resentful of the terrible destruction it causes. War is not only a physical struggle but also psychological torture. Upon meeting, Catherine and Henry rely upon a grand illusion of love and seduction for comfort. Catherine seeks solace for the death of her fiancé while Henry is doing anything to distance himself from the war. Firstly their declarations of love are transparent: Catherine reminds Henry several times that their courtship is a game. “This is a rotten game we play, isn’t it?” Catherine comments early on. Although cynical they start off, the war eventually brings out the best in them as they involve in a serious love affair. Their mutual trauma gives them enormous understanding. of each other’s personalities. Henry himself admits: “God knows I had not wanted to fall in love with her. I had not wanted to fall in love with anyone.
As the romance developed from the stage of flirtation to a serious affair the war is changing from a “war in the movies” to a war that becomes risky. Gradually, Catherine becomes an indispensable part of his life. The love of Catherine Barkley is so great that Henry deserts the army, as he puts it “declares separate peace”.
To conclude, in A Farewell to Arms, through revealing the tragedies of the protagonists, Hemingway attempts to point out that war is nothing more than a dark extension of the murderous world that refuses to protect or preserve the happiness of humankind. In addition, life itself is nothing more than an endless struggle, and the end of it is death and pain. Henry acknowledges: “No matter how hard we fight to live, we end up defeated.”
Henry’s disillusionment is poignantly revealed in his last tragic note: “But after I had got them out and shut the door and turned off the lights it wasn’t any good. It was like saying good-bye to a statue.”