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Thread: Hemingway-"A Farewell to Arms" (spoiler)

  1. #1

    Hemingway-"A Farewell to Arms" (spoiler)

    One forum member asked me today why Hemingway had Catherine killed off in "Farewell to Arms." Good question! I last read the book 40 years ago, so I did a search on google.

    Curiously enough, today I was debating the notion that one should write from personal experience, rather than write of something alien and unknown. The following excerpts from the above link do an admirable job of answering the question about the death of Catherine in the novel and also demonstrate a successful author who very much believed in drawing from his own life experiences.


    All fiction is autobiographical, no matter how obscure from the author's experience it may be, marks of their life can be detected in any of their tales. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway is based largely on Hemingway's own personal experiences. The main character of the novel, Frederic Henry, experiences many of the same situations that Hemingway lived. Some of these similarities are exact, while some are less similar, and some events have a completely different outcome.

    During World War I, he served as an ambulance driver in the Italian infantry and was wounded just before his 19th birthday. Hospitalized, Hemingway fell in love with an older nurse.

    A Farewell to Arms is the story of Frederic Henry, an American, driving an ambulance for the Italian Army during World War I. The novel takes us through Frederic's experiences in war and his love affair with Catherine Barkley, an American nurse in Italy.

    There are many similarities in the experiences of Ernest Hemingway and his character Frederic Henry, in A Farewell to Arms. Hemingway and Henry were both involved in World War I, in a medical capacity, but neither of them were regular army personnel. Like Hemingway, Henry was shot in his right knee during a battle. Both men were Americans but were ambulance drivers for the Italian Army. In real life, Hemingway met his love, Agnes, a nurse, in the hospital after being shot; Henry met his love, Catherine Barkley, also a nurse, before he was shot and hospitalized. In both cases, the relationships with these women were strengthened while the men were hospitalized. Another difference is that in A Farewell to Arms, Catherine and her child died while she was giving birth, this was not the case with Agnes, who left Henry for another Italian Army officer.

    There is great power in being an author; you can make things happen which do not necessarily occur in real life. Hemingway felt throughout his life, powerless, and so to escape this, he created alternative lives by writing stories. Hemingway, who fell in love with Agnes, an American nurse, seven years older than he, while wounded in Milan, was deeply hurt after she didn't return his affections. While the beginning of A Farewell to Arms, up until this point is similar, this is where the story changes. In the book, Frederic and Catherine are both in love with each other. Hemingway continued his affair with Agnes through Frederic and Catherine.

    Hemingway and Henry also have similar unhealthy obsessions and personality flaws. Both men are eternally morbid, which shows itself in their obsessions with war and death. Hemingway shows his melancholy belief that death is inevitable through Frederic. Hemingway shows the reader that death ends life before you have the chance to live it. This was undoubtedly one of the reason's that Hemingway ended the book in Catherine Barkley's death and the death of her child. Frederic says in response to the deaths: "You died. You did not know what it was about. You never had time to learn. They threw you in and told you the rules and the first time they caught you off base they killed you^Ε they killed you in the end. You could count on that. Stay around and they would kill you."

    Another striking similarity between Hemingway and his character Henry, is their isolationism. Edgar Johnson in Twentieth Century Interpretations of A Farewell to Arms writes, "it is society as a whole that is rejected, social responsibility, social concern." Henry, like Hemingway, leads a private life as a detached, isolated individual. He socializes with the officers, talks with the priest and visits the officer's brothel, but maintains only superficial relationships. The only relationship that means anything to him is Catherine, which is Hemingway's Agnes, both of which are isolated relationships.

    Ernest Hemingway once gave some advice to his fellow writer F. Scott Fitzgerald. If something in life hurts you, you should use it in your writing. In writing a Farewell to Arms, Hemingway followed his own advice. In many ways, Frederic Henry was a psychological parallel to Hemingway. The painful experiences of his own life, which were consciously and unconsciously placed in this novel, helped make it a major literary achievement.
    Last edited by Sitaram; 02-27-2005 at 11:19 PM.

  2. #2
    somewhere else Helga's Avatar
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    I never wondered why he made her die in the novel. I was/am certain that it was his way to make a 'happy' ending, or one that he could agree with. I have read a lot about Hemingway and I think he was a very proud man and when she denied him (with that I mean his real lover,the woman he based Catherine on), it wasn't easy to swallow for a man. This was a good way to make her 'disappear'. I would do the same thing if it happened to me...

    I haven't checked out the link you posted but I will, thanks.
    I hope death is joyful, and I hope I'll never return -Frida Khalo

    If I seem insensitive to what you are going through, understand it's the way I am- Mr. Spock

    Personally, I think that the unique and supreme delight lies in the certainty of doing 'evil'–and men and women know from birth that all pleasure lies in evil. - Baudelaire

  3. #3
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    idont know if you still visit this page
    i am trying to find an original theme to my magister desertation
    i am thinking about premitivism and violence in hemingway's fiction
    have please an idea about
    i am not speaking about what have already said but nwe ideas in these two notions

  4. #4
    Captain Azure Patrick_Bateman's Avatar
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    I have a slight bone to pick with the original post

    If I remember correctly Catherine was Scottish not American
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  5. #5
    Registered User keilj's Avatar
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    When I read it, I got the impression that Hemingway killed Catherine at the end as a bit of revenge against the nurse in real life that he dated. Particularly since that nurse left Hemingway, and she even later described their relationship as just a "young person's romance"

  6. #6
    There is hardly a person who would not know of this man, this great mind, this genius of American prose whose name is Ernest Hemingway. There is unlikely a kid who would not read at least one of his book. There are many movies shot based on his biography let alone lots of publications written on his life and creative activity. Ernest Hemingway Essay: The Most Interesting Facts is one of such articles dedicated to this great of a great people and if you have not read his writings as of yet, it is right about time to do so.

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