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A Farewell to Arms

A Farewell to Arms is a semi-autobiographical novel, written by Ernest Hemingway in 1929.

The novel draws heavily on Hemingway's experiences as a young soldier in Italy. It tells the story of Lieutenant Frederic Henry, a young American ambulance driver serving in the Italian army during World War I. Henry falls in love with the English nurse Catherine Barkley. She tends him during his recuperation after being wounded by shrapnel. His recuperation and lovely romance with Catherine end when Henry must return to the front. Henry narrowly escapes death at the hands of fanatical Italians soldiers who are executing officers separated from their troops during the Italians' disastrous retreat after the Battle of Caporetto. Henry finds Catherine, and after a sojourn in an Italian resort, the couple flee to Switzerland on the eve of Henry's arrest for deserting. In Switzerland, Catherine dies during childbirth. It is an excellent example of the prose style that made Hemmingway famous.

A film adaptation of the same name was made in 1932, and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. It was written by Oliver H.P. Garrett and Benjamin Glazer, from the Hemingway novel, and was directed by Frank Borzage. The movie stars Helen Hayes, Gary Cooper and Adolphe Menjou.

The film was remade with the same title in 1957, starring Jennifer Jones, Rock Hudson and Vittorio De Sica and directed by Charles Vidor and John Huston.

The 1996 movie In Love and War, directed by Richard Attenborough, is a more biographical work, based on the same background as A Farewell to Arms.

The theme of rain

The motif of rain is an important component in the expression of emotion and feeling. Rain is present at every major event in the story, rain foreshadows future events, and rain acts as a projection of the character’s emotions. After the rain’s significance is established, simply mentioning that the weather is stormy evokes a specific set of emotions for the reader. War, love, life, and death are all attached to rain at some point in the work. In this way, Hemingway is able to join together situations, which at first consideration could have distinctly different meanings and importance, and create a single, powerful experience.

A Farewell to Arms begins with a description of the situation of the war in Italy at the opening of the story. At the end of that short, initial chapter, the rain is first mentioned:

“At the start of the winter came the permanent rain and with the rain came cholera. But it was checked and in the end only seven thousand died of it in the army”(Hemingway, 4)

With this first reference to it, rain is already linked to disease, and so powerful is the disease brought upon by rain that seven thousand dead is considered lucky. Next, the rain is connected to the war through Hemingway’s choice of diction. Shells and debris are described as “raining” (Hemingway, 52) in the first battle scene of the book. This is also the scene in which the main character, Lieutenant Henry, is wounded.

Early on in the narrative, the pastoral setting is offered in contrast to the rain. Lieutenant Henry describes the village of Abruzzi, which is “clear…and dry” (Hemingway, 13). When Henry meets Catherine Barkley, his love interest in the novel, “it was a lovely spring morning” (Hemingway, 16). This contrast helps to exaggerate the emotions evoked by the presence of rain. For example, when Henry and Barkley are to be separated for the first time, “it was raining and soon the windows were wet and you could not see out” (Hemingway, 159).

One of the single most important moments in the novel, during which rain is present, is in a dialogue between the two characters. Barkley tells Henry that she is “afraid of the rain because sometimes [she] sees [herself]…[and him] dead in it” (Hemingway, 126). This is a continuation of the rain motif as a harbinger of misfortune, and also a foreshadowing of the climax and end of the novel.

The rain continues through the failure of the military campaign. The retreat is sparked by a wave of enemy attacks. These attacks coincide with the rain: “with the rain coming in sheets there was a bombardment” (Hemingway, 186). The rain turns the roads muddy and the retreat is stalled. It is during this retreat that the rain helps to connect all of the other themes of the book. Henry is missing Catherine and, half-asleep says:

"Blow, blow, ye western wind. Well it blew and it wasn’t the small rain, but the big rain down that rained. It rained all night. You knew it rained down that rained. Look at it. Christ, that my love were in my arms and I in my bed again. That my love Catherine. That my sweet love Catherine down might rain. Blow her again to me. Well, we were in it. Everyone was caught in it and the small rain would not quiet it”(Hemingway, 197).

At this moment, rain is directly involved with all aspects of the book. The war is failing; the armies are in retreat in the rain. Henry and Catherine are separated, and in the narratives jumbled sentences, almost appear separated because of the rain. This small passage solidifies the meanings of rain. Failure, tragedy, death, and loss are all evoked by the presence of rain in a scene.

Henry escapes from a mutiny in the army, finds Catherine and they flee to safety in Switzerland, where she is to have their child. Again, the pastoral setting is present, until she goes to deliver the baby. Three times Henry leaves the hospital to have a meal while Catherine is in labor, and each time, the weather progressively worsens. When the baby is still born and she dies of a hemorrhage, Henry “walks back to the hotel in the rain” (Hemingway, 332).

This final scene may appear quite anti-climactic, however, the use of rain throughout the entire novel, in conjunction with death and misery, has given the word ‘rain’ an almost physical quality. The phrase ‘in the rain’ refers to the first battle where Henry is wounded, the retreat, and the way Henry misses Catherine in his sleep, and built into it are all of the corresponding emotions. By using this motif over and over again Hemingway can simply say that Henry walks in the rain, and every emotion in the book is contained in his final sentence.