Typical Hemingway Hero Frederic Henry in A Farewell To Arms

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The Hemingway Hero

      The term “Hemingway Hero” came into being because in most of Hemingway’s books, be it novels or short stories, the protagonist shares certain traits and characteristics so as to resemble one another closely. It is as though Hemingway presents the same man under different guises and names. The first Hemingway Hero is Nick Adams, the protagonist of Hemingway’s collection of short stories “In Our Time”, Nick’s best-known successors are Jack Barnes in The Sun Also Rises, Frederic Henry in A Farewell to Arms, Harry Morgan in To Have and Have Not and Robert Jordan in For Whom the Bell Tolls. The main characteristic features of these typical Hemingway Hero prototypes is that they are generally a wounded man, wounded not only physically but psychologically also. He also tends to break away from the organized society and the world. He usually evolves a code by which he attempts to live in the world of violence, disorder, misery and chaos that he inhabits. He suffers from sleeplessness due to being tormented by his thoughts and ruminations. He is a man who never recovers from his psychological and spiritual wounds no matter how hard he tries. He may partially learn to live with his problems and may be to overcome some but he shall always be dogged by his troubles. He may also be able to adapt to a certain extent principles of honor, courage and endurance. He may be then able to use these principles in the struggle for life but it is always a losing struggle. He is a rationalist and a pragmatist. Due to these qualities, he brings everything and evaluates it according to experience. The Hemingway Hero is not a coward. He always faces his state fate with a stoic endurance of his lot. He always faces fate and in it death and defeat but he is never down and out in his deflate because through his intense struggles he always scores a kind of victory.

      The Hemingway Hero is also a hedonist and sensualist. He is much given to eating and drinking in excess. He finds satisfaction through indulging in these activities and more so in relishing the sensual pleasures of life. They also therefore indulge in casual sex uninhibitedly.

Henry: No Ties with the World

      The characteristics of the Hemingway Hero are all evident in Frederic Henry, the protagonist of A Farewell to Arms. Like all the other typical Hemingway Hero, Henry is also a man who has alienated himself from the world. As the novel begins we find Henry, an American serving in the Italian army. He is a Lieutenant in the ambulance unit. He has no ties with his family and here also there doesn’t seem to be any concrete reason for his joining the army. Moreover, he is not really involved with the war. He is more of a spectator than a participant. He doesn’t seem inspired by any ideals or goals. Though he performs his duties conscientiously and efficiently he has no connection with the war. He says that the war was of no concern to him. He says: ‘It seemed no more dangerous to him than the war in the movies’. He is a non-combatant and his attitude to the war is casual and indifferent. He is however, a bit disappointed that his unit functioned very well without him, that he was not indispensable. But then again apart from performing his duties as ordered he has no other consideration.

      That he is completely alienated from identification with social concerns or responsibility can be seen in how he has no concern over the war and how he defines obscene words such as glory, courage, sacrifice and rather finds more meaning and a sense of concreteness in the names of streets, rivers places etc. These concepts and ideals which fire nationalistic and patriotic fervor in soldiers and citizens hold no meaning for him. After he is wounded, and talk is going on about his being decorated he flatly refuses to braving done anything heroic and later on he shows disgust and boredom listening to the accounts of the legitimate and professional war hero. Ettore Moretti is proud of the medals and stripes he has won for bravery.

      Henry’s complete break from the world of war comes when he dives into the Tagliamento river and swims away to an escape when confronted by the Italian Military Police and faced with execution on the charge of being a German in Italian uniform. He was filled with anger and disgust but all his anger and any obligation he may have felt towards the army of Italy, is washed away. And in his desertion, he has made a break with the world of war and society to a certain extent. He is thorough with the war and has made a separate peace. Later, he expresses his disinclination to talk or hear anything about the war. He doesn’t even want to think about the war. He wants to be completely free from the war.

Given to Sensual Satisfaction

      Henry like the typical Hemingway Hero is a hedonist and is given to the pleasures of the senses. He is therefore a hard drinker and he indulges in casual sex freely and frequently. He has no personal relationships of any kind which exhibit depth or intimacy at any level. With his roommate Rinaldi, he exchanges causal banter and Rinaldi calls him his war-brother, they are informal and eat and drink in the officer’s mess together and also visit the officer’s brothel together. He also likes the priest with whom he talks on love, God and religion but his friendship with both are at a superficial level. Even in his relationship with Catherine, he begins casually. He jug tags along with Rinaldi to meet the new girls at the Front. He is introduced to Catherine and is later told by Rinaldi that she seemed interested in him. So he comes to see her just for the pleasure of it and because it is better to come to her than going to the girls in the brothel. At the first chance he tries to kiss and caress her and later when she gives in, he tells us that it was all a game. He seems interested only in sexual pleasure, which can also be inferred from his later insistence that Catherine “come back to bed”.

Wounded and Haunted by Guilt

      The typical Hemingway Hero is usually affected by a wound which is physical and also suffers from psychological problems. Henry also is wounded. He is seriously wounded in his legs (as Hemingway himself in war) and his knees have to be operated upon. Henry also preys to nightmares. He cannot sleep at night because he keeps thinking and thinking. After escaping the Military police on the freight train his thoughts trouble him. He doesn’t want to think but he can’t stop thinking “I wish this bloody train would get to Mestre and I want eat and stop thinking. I would have to stop”. Then he worries about the drivers, his family in America and Rinaldi. Then he says ‘I was not made to think” but he cannot stop himself from thinking. Later he is haunted by guilt about the war and his desertion. He refuses to talk about the war or read about it but he cannot stop wondering about it and feels like a truant school boy wondering about what happened at the hour you were away.

Tough But Inherently Sensitive

      The Hemingway Hero is also a very tough, courageous man. "Yet, this toughness is marked by a strong sensitive streak too. He is barbarian rather he is a sensitive man given to reflections and ruminations. Henry’s thoughts and reflection contain references to poets and authors like Samuel Johnson, Saint Paul, Sir Thomas Wyatt etc. He even quotes Andrew Marvel “But at my back. I always hear / Time’s winged chariot drawing near”. He shows an indifference to the world but there lurks an intensity of emotion beneath this attempt not to feel. His indifference breaks in the face of Catherine’s strong, unconditional devotion towards him. He falls in love with her but begins to love her with an intensity which the Henry of the initial chapters would never have shown. In the beginning he says “God knows I had not wanted to fall in love with her. I had not wanted to fall in love with anyone. But God knows I had,” later he says “I felt faint with loving her so much” and still later he tells her that he was nothing without her, life no longer had any meaning if she was not with him. His love for Catherine grows to the extent that after rejecting the world she is the only person that he wants to stay with. And so he sets up a paradise with her in the mountains. His sensitivity can also be seen in the way that he proposes marriage, because he worries for her, he agrees to Catherine’s whims etc. etc.

Stoic in the Face of Defeat

      As all the typical Hemingway Hero faces death and defeat, so does Frederic Henry. Henry faces death in its many faces throughout the novel. Henry is already aware of the cruelty of the world even before he loses Catherine. His reflection of death is that:

      If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them so of course it kills them. The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry”. Henry thus reflects on how the world deals with man. The harder you are the harder the world dealt with you. Life usually catches a man up, by his instincts, by his sensations, by his emotions, catches him in a trap. Henry faces death with calm, stoicism and endurance throughout the novel. In the beginning he informs us matter of fact that seven thousand men had died of cholera in the army, then he sees Passini dying in front of his eyes, similarly the sergeant, Aymo and then the executions of the Military Police. In all these, Henry faces them with stoicism bordering on indifference.

      Later, when faced with Catherine’s death and their still born child, Henry again displays stoic endurance. He prays to God to spare her. Henry calmly accepts both deaths. In the case of the child, wishing that it had been baptized and for Catherine, trying to say goodbye for a last time, failing which he walks away. Henry does not lament or displays any kind of sentimentality or show any self pity. He may be defeated but he is not out from the field yet. He shall struggle further and shall not succumb to his defeat.

The Hemingway Code

      The Hemingway Hero generally evolves and follows a code of conduct which again is referred to as the Hemingway Code. This code of conduct credits the Hemingway Hero. Henry also displays a code of conduct in the way he faces death and defeat especially in the manner in which he faces Catherine’s death. However, the code can be seen from the very beginning itself, His growth and development follow the pattern of a typical Hemingway Hero. In the initial stages of the affair, Henry like all Hemingway Heroes, is casual in his attitude and is interested only in sensual pleasure. He is sexually promiscuous and a hard drinker. He is a true hedonist. But after falling in love, though his gratification of the senses remain but he has developed the status of true love. And after discarding his obligation to the Italian army, he becomes committed to Catherine. His commitment and fidelity is also part of the code. His endeavor to struggle against the forces of life, his stoic endurance of defeat, despair and death are all part of the code.


      The Hemingway Hero therefore is something of a pragmatist. He has the attitude of first looking away from things such as principles and necessities and looking towards the consequence instead. Thought serves as a guide for action. And to be convinced of something he has to live through it in his own experience. All this is exemplified in Frederic Henry.

University Questions also can be Answered:

Discuss the appropriateness of the dictum that in A Farewell to Arms Henry is a typical Hemingway Hero.
Lieutenant Frederic Henry has all the characteristics of the Hemingway Hero. Elucidate.
The Hemingway’s Code Hero is exemplified in Lieutenant Frederic Henry, the protagonist of A Farewell to Arms. Justify.

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