Although the book, A Farewell To Arms by Ernest Hemingway was not the type of book that had an exciting page-turning story, it can nevertheless be called a classic. A classic has been defined as “a book that lasts through generations because of its universality of theme, ageless symbolism, word choice and the ordering of detail.” This book has a universal theme, several ageless symbols, and a classic style that is as easily read today as
it was 50 years ago.
Although there were several themes in this book, a major theme seemed to
dominate the story. This theme is the importance of love and loss in a malefemale relationship. These two lovers were so absorbed in each other that they needed no one else in their life. “’Wouldn’t you like to go on a trip somewhere by yourself, darling, and be with men and ski?’ ‘No. Why should I?’ ‘I should think sometimes you would want to see other people besides me.’ ‘Do you want to see other people?’ ‘No.’ ‘Neither do I.’” p.297. This conversation shows that Catherine loves him so much that she is willing
to be alone just so he can be happy. At the same time, Mr. Henry would probably like to go skiing but would never dream of leaving Catherine alone. Death wins out over love. “’It is very dangerous.’ The nurse went into the room and shut the door. I sat outside in the hall. Everything was gone inside of me. I did not think. I could no think. I knew she was going to die and I prayed that she would not. Don’t let her die. Oh, God, please don’t let her die. I’ll do anything for you if you won’t let her die…” p.330. Hemingway
went on for an entire paragraph of him pleading with God. This is how he is able to show that Mr. Henry loves her more than anything, more than life its self. In a way, I think that they loved each other too much. They did not go out often or do anything that was with other people. They were always together. This is an unhealthy life style. They were creating their own fortress and isolating themselves from the world. ‘“My life used to be
full of everything,’ I said. ‘Now if you aren’t with me I haven’t a thing in the world.’” p. 257. This quote further supports the idea that they are isolating themselves from the world. Since they were so cut off from the outside world, Mr. Henry has even a more difficult time going back into the reality of life after her death. This theme of man and woman isolated in love and finally their loss to dark death is universal.
The most profound aspect of this book would be its ageless symbolism. The free-living, heavy-drinking life that Catherine and Mr. Henery shared could be compared to the heavy investing, speculating and consequence-free life of the 20’s. The product that came from Catherine and Mr. Henry’s lifestyle was a dead child. The result of the over- investing of the 20’s was the great depression. So the baby symbolizes the depression. Another point to consider was that Mr. Henry was a deserter. He left the army to be with Catherine. Desertion was illegal and he paid for it by loosing that which he loved the most, Catherine. Rain was connected with pain or grief. He drank to dull
this grief or pain. Rain is wet and “wet” is connected with alcohol. “We had each been drinking out of one of the bottles and I took my bottle with me and went over and lay flat on the hay and looked out the narrow window at the wet country.” p.217. In this scene, he has been thinking of Cat and he decided that it would be best to drink his troubles away. When Hemingway said that the land was “wet”, it usually meant that Mr. Henry was drunk. After Catherine and the baby died at the hospital, Mr. Henry walked home in the rain. “After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the
rain.” page 332. He had just suffered a major loss and dealt with it in the only way that he knew; through alcohol. Although drinking at this point was not actually mentioned directly, we can nevertheless assume that he was going to make this connection just because of the setting in the rain. This book had many examples of symbolism and they all point to the fact that there is always a terrible price to pay for weak actions or for blind love.
The word choice and ordering of detail of this book also leads one to believe that they are reading a classic. Hemingway’s style is one of simple, straightforward dialogue with the absence of slang. Many generations of readers can read and understand the story. An example of this simplicity of dialogue is as follows: “’Where do you want to go, Cat?’ ‘Montreux.’ ‘It is a very nice place,’ the official said. ‘I think you will like that place.’ ‘Here at Locarno is a very nice place,’ another official said.” page 282. Although this simple dialogue is very easy to read, it is also very powerful in it’s directness and simplicity. On the other hand, his use of language when describing scenery is very elaborate. “The next year there were many victories. The mountain that was beyond the valley and the hillside where the chestnut forest grew was captured and there were victories beyond the plain on the plateau to the south and we crossed the river in August and lived in a house in Gorizia that had a fountain and many thick shady trees in a walled garden and a wisteria vine purple on the side of the house.” page 5. When
describing these scenes, not only does he do it in an elaborate and detailed way, but he also runs his thoughts and sentences together as if it were all being spoken in one long drawn-out breath. The ordering of detail of this book was in a straight-forward, well-organized way. It was very linear and the story did not jump around between the present and flash-backs to the protagonist’s past. This kept the story from becoming confusing. Hemingway’s style is that of a classic author.
Because of the universal themes, ageless symbolism, and style of word choice and story detail, A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway can indeed be considered a classic literary work. The theme of love between a man and woman so self-absorbed that all else is ignored and the theme of life bringing them to a breaking point is a human story that all can sympathize with. The ageless symbolism that compares the loss of a baby, or hope, with the beginning of the American economic depression is profound. The alcoholism in the story reflects the careless attitudes toward life by the people living at this time. The irresponsible attitudes, such as the decision to desert the army, only leads
to heartache. Life is nothing but a game to these characters, until the reality finally smacks them in the face. Hemingway’s simple and straight-forward dialogue and story line makes this an easy to read and understandable ageless story.