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A Farewell to Arms - By Ernest Hemingway A modern soldier’s autobiography

2018-08-22 00:00:46
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Love, war and intolerable twentieth-century images

In today’s world, the experience of being a soldier on the frontline is accessible at our fingertips. From wartime photographs to televised interviews with veterans on leading broadcast channels, from feature-length films to virtual experience video games; the trials and tribulations of being embroiled in a bloody and devastating war have never appeared more conceivable, relatable and believable.  
 

  • It is important due to its in-depth complex characterizations of soldiers on the frontline  
  • Still holds sentimental value to readers of today

However, in 1929, upon the publication of American author Ernest Hemingway’s second novel A Farewell to Arms, to the Post-WW1 American public, military life in foreign lands was a private and mysterious matter, hinted at, only in radio broadcast and propaganda posters.  

A Farewell to Arms tells the tale of Frederic Henry, a young American Paramedic in the Italian military during World War I, whose political confrontations on the frontline intersect with a more personal and private romance involving the protagonist’s affair with a beautiful English nurse.  

A Farewell to Arms was such an influential and important literary contribution of its era due to its gritty and graphic depictions of warfare

Through its iconic and graphic depictions of warfare, Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms effectively pioneered the modern soldier’s autobiography.

A Farewell to Arms was such an influential and important literary contribution of its era due to its gritty and graphic depictions of warfare, which were utterly alien to early twentieth century readers.  

Authors preceding Hemingway wrote their novels in a quaint, decorative Edwardian Style which eschewed reality in favour of beautiful descriptions.  

In contrast, A Farewell to Arms introduced readers across the world to an innovative, modernist, style of writing that focused wholly on a character’s thoughts, feelings 
and sensation.

This is highlighted by Hemingway’s comprehensive depictions of the episodes of mundanity - such as briefing, preparation and planning - which are overshadowed by key historical events of warfare. 

For example, Frederic Henry’s daily drives transporting wounded soldiers across a series of military camps are enhanced via Hemingway’s portrayal of his various thoughts and impressions, which accompany him as he travels. As a result of this, A Farewell to Arms forges complex characters that bring an invaluable dimension of humanity to war, which is often reduced to mere facts, figures and statistics.  

Additionally, the importance of A Farewell to Arms as a literary work can be conceived via French philosopher Jacques Ranciere’s concept of intolerable images.  

Ranciere argued that illustrations of unsettling and unnerving moments in literature were essentially intolerable in the sense that they provoked sentiments of indignation and discomfort in an audience.  

Ranciere argued that illustrations of unsettling and unnerving moments in literature were essentially intolerable in the sense that they provoked sentiments of indignation and discomfort  in an audience. 

Furthermore, Ranciere’s theory asks the question of whether it is morally and socially acceptable to exhibit disagreeable images as art.  

A Farewell to Arms can be used to answer this conundrum via representations of violence which, while monstrous and despicable, illuminate the emotional landscape of war.  

Essentially, the moments of gruesome violence between enemy forces in the novel parallel peaceful moments of love and friendship, which encompass an intricate psychological portrait of human warfare.

Overall, Ernest Hemingway’s 1929 novel A Farewell to Arms is an important novel to read due to its in-depth and complex characterizations of soldiers on the frontline in World War I, which, while shocking and original in the era of its publication, still holds sentimental value to readers of today.     


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