Book Review: A Farewell to Arms

Abdulrazzak Tamim

Arabic Proofreader

  “A Farewell to Arms” by Ernest Hemingway is a novel that is set during the First World War. It was first published when Hemingway was thirty years old, and was based on his personal experiences in Italy, where he was volunteering as an ambulance driver. The novel describes the relationship between Frederic Henry and Catherine Barkley, which is characterized as mostly unhappy and sexual in nature.  

  The relationship between Frederic and Catherine is a controversial issue. Some find it inappropriate to portray Catherine as someone who is purely subordinate and obedient to the whims of her partner, Frederic. For example, in one instance, Catherine says: “I’ll say just what you wish and I’ll do what you wish…” Others, however, find that it is a very simple relationship. It is necessary for her to be such a character because her man is, after all, a soldier, who might get killed at any time. Thus, she wants to make the most of her time with him and be as cheerful as possible.

  What makes this novel interesting is Hemingway’s writing style, and his ability to write short sentences masterfully, sometimes even without the use of a comma. The novel is also peppered with many run-on sentences, which are at times confusing and at other times clear. Conversations in the novel are often long and include more than two unspecified characters, rendering it difficult for the reader to keep up with who’s saying what.

  The description of the war is arguably one of the best components of this novel. As a person who lived through World War I, Hemingway immerses himself in the description of its experience and shared many situations that impacted him. For instance, when the Italian military police executes the officers, he writes: “I saw how their minds worked; if they had minds and if they worked.”

  Through his novel, Hemingway attempts to tell us that war is not only about armies and soldiers. Rather, it is a mix of contradictory emotions. One minute you could be joking and happy, and in the other you could be dead. At any moment, death can appear and everyone else just moves on.

  Interestingly, rain in “A Farewell to Arms” is one of the most important elements in the novel. Every time rain appears, death and tragedy follow. Throughout the novel, Hemingway uses rain as a symbol of bad and risky situations. After he and Catherine flee the war and reach Switzerland, Henry says: “Isn’t the rain fine? They never had rain like this in Italy. It’s cheerful rain.” Even the conclusion of his novel uses rain to symbolise the book’s tragic events, with Henry walking back to the hotel in the rain to emphasize his emotional state, and the state of mind the novel puts its readers in as well.

  In a nutshell, this novel is a good and enjoyable read. Hemingway’s style of writing, his sentence structure and his use of dialogue, as well as the tragic flow of events for his characters make this book an intriguing read.

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