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A Farewell to Arms

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A farewell to Arms
The novel A Farewell to Arms possesses a circular plot. This is because in the beginning Henry is alone and he is still alone in the end. Another reason is because the first chapter reports the death of soldiers whereas at the end the novel deals with Catherine’s death. A sense of somberness runs through the whole novel (Merklein 2003). The main theme that stands out in this novel is that of a flattering perception of love and a negative perception of war. The novel is neither a love story nor is it entirely an anti-war piece. This paper explores Hemingway’s use of symbolism in the novel and some of the criticisms that concerning his use of this literary tool.
Symbolism
The author, Ernest Hemingway, effectively uses a variety of symbols to represent abstract concepts or ideas. It will be observed that there are some key symbols running throughout the novel. They are; mountains, rain and plains. The first chapter introduces mountains which recur throughout the novel. They signify dignity, love, good life, happiness and health (Dahiya 1992). Further on, they symbolize respect to God and a sense of worship to Him. In contrast, plains serve to signify suffering, death, irreligiousness, war, obscenity, disease and indignity. In the novel, the priest talks of his Abruzzi, his homeland. He tells Henry how it is a place with natural beauty, hospitality, polite and kind people and surrounded with mountains with snow. In this context the mountains are contrasted to the mess in the low-lying plains which are characterized by destruction, prostitutes, obscenities and drunkenness (Lewis 1992). We see Henry’s love story begin as an unstable game of seduction. However, after meeting Catherine, it acquires aspects of dignity and honor (Monteiro 1994). After this the two lovers escape and end up in a cabin located in a small village surrounded by mountains covered in snow. At this point the main symbolism of the mountains is taken up by Catherine. Just like the mountains, she symbolizes home, comfort, security and happiness.
Further on, another recurrent symbol in this novel is the rain which is mentioned in the first chapter. Here, seven thousand people are killed by cholera as a result of the rains. It symbolizes distress, death, despair, pain, grief and misfortune (Dahiya 1992). When the rain comes, it not only leaves tree branches bare but also blackens their trunks. Half of the novel is not only dry but also sterile whereas the other half is not only wet but also sickly. Indeed, in the novel, all sad and grievous events like the retreat, Catherine’s labor pains followed by her death and the lovers’ separation soon after Henry recovered go together with the rain (Merklein 2003). In the novel, the rain provokes a sense of fear deep within Catherine and she sees it as being the ultimate cause of her death. In the end this is what actually happens. Further on, rain also symbolizes the unavoidable disintegration of the good things that life brings (Waldhorn 2002). This becomes evident when Catherine confesses to Henry that the rain always has a way of messing up any plans that lovers make. After Catherine dies, Henry walks in the rain on his way home from the hospital. As the rain falls on him, it authenticates Catherine’s apprehension thus substantiating one of this novel’s key arguments: similar to everything else in this world, great love cannot last.
Another symbol that does not recur in this novel is Catherine’s hair (Lewis 1992). During the start of their relationship, Catherine would loosen down her hair and allow it to pour her lover’s head. This reminded Henry of standing behind a curtain of water inside a waterfall or being surrounded by a tent (Rama Rao 2007). To this end, this description symbolizes the isolation of the couple from the rest of the world. Despite the raging war, they were able to blissfully seclude themselves, and believed to be protected by hair. However, later on, they learned that love is as ephemeral and fragile as hair when faced by life’s nasty reality.
Another symbolism that can be identified in this novel is when Henry jumps into the water so as to escape the Italian army. In this context, the water symbolized the clean and new life that he intended to life from then onwards (Rama Rao 2007). This is true as we see him travel from one place to another and even finds a wife.
Criticism of the use of symbolism in this novel
There is a lot of criticism surrounding the novel A Farewell to Arms. For instance, feminists have strongly criticized Hemingway for the way he handled the Christine’s character. Instead of looking at Christine’s hair as a symbol of isolation and love, feminists argue that it is a mere expression of male desires and needs (Bloom 2009). They expressed their concern regarding her lack of growth or development in the whole story and consider this to be the novel’s greatest weakness. In response to this argument, other scholars have criticized the feminists for basing their arguments on a single ideological framework (Bloom 2009). Works Cited
Merklein, C. Symbols in Farewell to Arms. Munich: Grin Verlag, 2003. Print.
Monteiro, G. Critical Essays on Earnest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. New York: G. K. Hall, 1994.
Waldhorn, A. A Reader’s Guide to Earnest Hemingway. New York: Syracuse University Press, 2002.
Dahiya, B. S. Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms: a Critical Study. New Delhi: Academic Foundation, 1992.
Lewis, R. W. A Farewell to Arms: The War of the Words. Connecticut: Twayne Publishers, 1992.
Rama Rao, P. G. Earnest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers & Dist., 2007.
Bloom, H. Earnest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. New York: Facts On File, Incorporated, 2009.

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