1954 Nobel Prize In Literature
Synopses & Reviews
The best American novel to emerge from World War I, A Farewell to Arms is the unforgettable story of an American ambulance driver on the Italian front and his passion for a beautiful English nurse. Hemingway’s frank portrayal of the love between Lieutenant Henry and Catherine Barkley, caught in the inexorable sweep of war, glows with an intensity unrivaled in modern literature, while his description of the German attack on Caporetto—of lines of fired men marching in the rain, hungry, weary, and demoralized—is one of the greatest moments in literary history. A story of love and pain, of loyalty and desertion, A Farewell to Arms, written when he was thirty years old, represents a new romanticism for Hemingway.
By turns romantic and harshly realistic, Hemingway's story of a tragic romance set against the brutality and confusion of World War I cemented his fame as a stylist and as a writer of extraordinary literary power. A volunteer ambulance driver and a beautiful English nurse fall in love when he is wounded on the Italian front.
The best American novel to emerge from World War I, A Farewell to Arms is the unforgettable story of an American ambulance driver on the Italian front and his passion for a beautiful English nurse.
About the Author
Ernest Hemingway ranks as the most famous of twentieth-century American writers; like Mark Twain, Hemingway is one of those rare authors most people know about, whether they have read him or not. The difference is that Twain, with his white suit, ubiquitous cigar, and easy wit, survives in the public imagination as a basically, lovable figure, while the deeply imprinted image of Hemingway as rugged and macho has been much less universally admired, for all his fame. Hemingway has been regarded less as a writer dedicated to his craft than as a man of action who happened to be afflicted with genius. When he won the Nobel Prize in 1954, Time magazine reported the news under Heroes rather than Books and went on to describe the author as "a globe-trotting expert on bullfights, booze, women, wars, big game hunting, deep sea fishing, and courage." Hemingway did in fact address all those subjects in his books, and he acquired his expertise through well-reported acts of participation as well as of observation; by going to all the wars of his time, hunting and fishing for great beasts, marrying four times, occasionally getting into fistfights, drinking too much, and becoming, in the end, a worldwide celebrity recognizable for his signature beard and challenging physical pursuits.
Reading Group Guide
Reading Group Guide for A Farewell to Arms
Ernest Hemingway was born July 21, 1899, in Oak Park, Illinois. After graduation from high school, he moved to Kansas City, Missouri, where he worked briefly for the Kansas City Star. Failing to qualify for the United States Army because of poor eyesight, he enlisted with the American Red Cross to drive ambulances in Italy. He was severely wounded on the Austrian front on July 9, 1918. Following recuperation in a Milan hospital, he returned home and became a freelance writer for the Toronto Star.
In December of 1921, he sailed to France and joined an expatriate community of writers and artists in Paris while continuing to write for the Toronto Star. There his fiction career began in "little magazines" and small presses and led to a volume of short stories, In Our Time (1925). His novels The Sun Also Rises (1926) and A Farewell to Arms (1929) established Hemingway as the most important and influential fiction writer of his generation. His later collections of short stories and For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940) affirmed his extraordinary career while his highly publicized life gave him unrivaled celebrity as a literary figure.
Hemingway became an authority on the subjects of his art: trout fishing, bullfighting, big-game hunting, and deep-sea fishing, and the cultures of the regions in which he set his work -- France, Italy, Spain, Cuba, and Africa.
The Old Man and the Sea (1952) earned him the Pulitzer Prize and was instrumental in his being awarded the Nobel Prize in 1954. Hemingway died in Ketchum, Idaho, on July 2, 1961.
Lieutenant Frederic Henry, an American assigned to a Red Cross ambulance unit in Italy, is severely wounded on the Austrian front and sent to a hospital in Milan, where he falls in love with his English nurse, Catherine Barkley. When he returns to the front, the war goes badly, and Frederic joins a retreat from Caporetto in which he barely escapes execution at the hands of Italian battle police. He deserts the army, returns to Milan, goes on to Stresa, joins now-pregnant Catherine Barkley, and avoids capture by rowing across the lake to Switzerland, where they live an idyllic life until Catherine delivers a still-born child and dies, and Frederic walks back to his hotel in the rain, alone.
1. How does the first chapter of A Farewell to Arms set a tone and mood which anticipate subsequent events? Why does the narrator move the reader through a change of seasons from late summer to autumn and on to winter? What are the major images in the chapter, and what is the effect of the understatement in the final sentence (p. 4)?
2. During Lt. Frederic Henry's early visits with Catherine Barkley, Catherine says as they touch each other and speak of love, "This is a rotten game we play, isn't it"? (p. 31). How should one characterize Frederic's early "love" for Catherine? What does the initial stage of their relationship reveal about the effect of the war upon their lives?
3. What perspective regarding love does the priest from Abruzzi provide, and why do officers bait him during meals? Frederic says the priest "had always known what I did not know and what, when I learned it, I was always able to forget. But I did not know that then, although I learned it later" (p. 14). Is Frederic's observation borne out in the novel?
4. Why are the Italian soldiers disillusioned with the war? How is Frederic's leap into the river to escape the battle police a symbolic demarcation in the novel? What extended meaning do we find in his statement, "It was not my show any more..."(p. 232)? Does Catherine represent for Frederic refuge, peace, and "home" in its fullest sense? How?
5. Is A Farewell to Arms "a study in doom," as it has sometimes been called? How is Frederic's recollection of the ants on the burning log relevant to questions about God and faith raised in the novel? What do you believe Frederic has learned, or perhaps become resigned to, in this novel of love and war?
After Reading the Novel
The critic Allen Tate read A Farewell to Arms in Paris in 1929 and called it a masterpiece. Fewer than three months after its publication it had sold 45,000 copies and headed many bestseller lists. Many consider it Hemingway's best novel. You may wish to look at early sketches which inspired portions of A Farewell to Arms, especially the "Miniatures" which introduce Chapters 6 and 7 of In Our Time, or at short stories which evolved from Hemingway's World War I experiences such as "In Another Country" (1927), "Now I Lay Me" (1927), and "A Way You'll Never Be" (1933), all available in The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. Since the rise of feminist criticism, much has been written about Hemingway's female characters, especially Catherine Barkley, whom some reject as unflatteringly submissive. There is considerable division over this issue, and the subject is worthy of exploration. A 1957 Hollywood movie version of A Farewell to Arms stars Rock Hudson and Jennifer Jones. A more recent film, loosely based upon Hemingway's war experiences in Italy, starring Chris O'Donnell and Sandra Bullock, is also available.