Farewell to Arms -- a Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

And Catherine's pains during labor and her death, all show how misfortune, distress, and death particularly plague and affect these protagonists. They are fated to die and suffer because they cannot feel at home in military, in religion, or even in any particular state. Catherine cannot get over the death of her fiancee, just as Henry cannot get over the inability of Catherine to purely and totally give herself over to him.

Both Henry and Catherine are outsiders because they are always 'once removed' from society. Catherine is too much in love with the dead to be truly wed to Henry and truly part of his life. Henry cannot, despite his affection for some of his comrades, feel truly in touch with the army, because he always views his status as a national and as a soldier with a certain degree of distance and irony.

This is also true of both protagonists' feelings about religion. For instance unlike her closest and most conventionally devout friend, Miss Ferguson, Catherine does not ascribe her beliefs to any religious creed or cause, just as Henry does not use his bravery for war and country's sake. For Catherine, love alone is religion, even if the moral creeds of this faith are not well defined. Catherine is utterly devoted to the man she loves, to the point that that she will die for his love and die for him, but this willingness to die is not part of any larger system, unlike more conventional religious structures.

Frederick Henry recollections of "the ants on the burning log" recall Moses' revelations of God in the Burning Bush, although Henry's visions are not revelatory in the sense that he is a prophet. Henry is simply an ordinary man who has great difficulty fitting his worldview into war and wartime society. The book takes a partially deflating tone of religious people, such as when the unit's captain makes fun of the military priest, showing disrespect for them man of the cloth. But ultimately, the priest, although "young" and a man who "blushes easily" distinguishes himself against this onslaught of the other men, with his sense of good humor. (5) None of the religious figures of the novel are hypocrites or prudes; rather they simply offer alternative, more comfortable ways of morally living in the world, ways that both Henry and Catherine find untenable. In fact, the completely atheist men of the company are shown in an unfavorable light, in the way they treat the priest. Henry is even far friendlier to the priest than most of his comrades, even if he does go to one of the town's two "bawdy houses," as he calls them, that very night, in flagrant defiance of religious modes of ethics. (4)

Thus, although God and conventional structures of faith are open to some individuals over the course of the novel, to men such as Henry these structures are dead. There is a kind of hope, but the kind of hope raised in the novel is not available for all individuals. Frederick has learned, or perhaps becomes resigned to, in the novel's story of love and war that war is meaningless because it is about nations, boundaries, and creeds, things he cares nothing for and cannot love. Frederick realizes for himself that he can only love another human being like Catherine, a woman willing to sacrifice all for love, not for abstractions.

The realizations Frederick Henry makes and recollections of "the ants on the burning log" and the smallness of human beings in relation to larger forces thus are not about the connection of human beings to a larger universe, but in his view, because of human being's disconnection to larger ideals, the need to create one's own moral structures, even if this is doomed. Both life giving water has the power to bring rain, and fire can kill, even birth and labor can kill a woman, we are all doomed in that sense, and fated to die, but it is what the human mind makes of these things in a creative fashion that is significant, even if one cannot swallow the past 'truth's of ages past, like Henry or Catherine.

Works Cited

Hemingway, Ernest. A Farewell to Arms.…

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