A Farewell To Arms: Chapter 1 - Summary and Analysis

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BOOK I
CHAPTER I

SUMMARY

The Landscape and The Troops
      It was late summer. The narrator and others lived in a village that looked across the river and the plains to the mountains. Troops went up and down the road raising dust making the leaves and tree trunks dusty. As they marched they raised dust and the leaves, that fell early but afterwards the road was bare except for the leaves. The plain was rich as there were many fruit orchards but in the distance the mountains were brown and bare. Fighting was going on in the mountains and they could see the flashes from the artillery like summer lightening, in the night.

Autumn
      Sometimes they heard the troops marching and guns being pulled by motor tractors. There was a lot of such traffic at night. Then as autumn came so did the rains. All the leaves fell as a consequence turning the trees bare and the whole country was not brown and dead with autumn. Mist covered the trees as clouds covered the mountains. The trucks splashed mud and the troops marched muddy and wet looking like pregnant women with their cartridges bulging forward in their capes. The king passed by every day on his car checking things but things were going very badly.

Winter, Cholera and Death
      With winter came permanent rain which brought cholera and killed seven thousand people in the army.

CRITICAL ANALYSIS

The Setting of War
      This introductory chapter is important for a number of reasons. The narrator and the “we” mentioned in the opening line remain unidentified as no names are mentioned. The only thing clearly evident is that - some kind of war is going on. The chapter is descriptive in nature, and it establishes that war is going to be the background, the setting of the novel. A vivid and realistic description of the main features i.e” the river, the plain and the mountains is given. The vivid style is emphasised in the description of the marching troops and other wartime traffic.

The Mood of Solemnity and Doom
      Another significant aspect of chapter is how the mood is built up. A solemn and somber mood foreboding doom is made apparent by the constant reference to the troops, the weaponry, and the death by cholera. A fitting prelude to the story this chapter clearly states that the novel is about the grimmer aspect of war even though the other theme, that of love has as yet not been indicated.

The Seasonal Cycle
      The close reference to the change of seasons is crucial as it serves a symbol-function. The chapter opens with ‘late summer’ and as the chapter progresses towards its midpoint “fall” or autumn has arrived. And the chapter ends with the coming of “winter and the permanent rain” and the death that follows.

The Use of Symbols
      Critics have commented on the symbolic function that the chapter performs. The various images enumerated here, points towards an inevitable doom. And prepares us for the detailed study of doom that the novel is going to lead to rain which brought gloom and bleakness in autumn becomes permanent in the winter bringing cholera and the death of seven thousand people in the army, rain is established as a symbol of disaster and the chapter ends on this somber note. Other symbols such as the mountain and the plain and their significance shall become clear later in the story.

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