Irony in The Novel - A Farewell To Arms

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      The irony is a literary device used to great extent by many artists. There are various different types of irony in literature. A general meaning can be drawn simply as ‘meaning the opposite of that which is implied. Hemingway was a writer who dealt mostly with the implicit rather than the explicit. He was also consistently into depicting life and the gap between expectation and fulfillment. Therefore, irony as a technique was singularly suitable to his purpose and its use is one of the more striking features of Hemingway’s fiction.

Henry: His Physical Situation and His Mental Inclination

      From the very beginning, a theme with which Henry was greatly taken was the theme of the ironic gap between expectation and fulfillment, pretense and fact, intention and action, the way things are such a theme requires that in order to achieve artistic justice, an ironic method be used. A Farewell to Arms, beautifully illustrates the use of the ironic method. From the very outset, there is a curious disproportion and disparity between the hero, Frederic Henry’s situation or his physical position vis-a-vis the war and his mental frame of mind. He is an American serving in the Italian army during the first world war and has no specific reason for being in the war. He is a noncombatant as he is in the ambulance unit, he lives quite comfortably in comparative luxury, eats and drinks well in spite of the war. He is a frequent visitor to the brothel meant exclusively for officers and he seems to lead an easy life even getting off duty to go on a leave quite easily. However, in spite of all these good facilities, he is not satisfied, he is discontented and something seems to be disturbing his mind. A closure look into his discontent discloses that his grim mood is not a reflection of his personal fortune. Rather it is a manifestation of the world, the civilization’s uproar and chaotic state due to the war.

      In the very first chapter there are instances of verbal irony. For example, the narrator says “At the start of the winter came the permanent rain, and with the rain came the cholera. But it was checked and in the end only seven thousand died of it in the army”. The irony evident from the discrepancy between intention and action can be seen in Henry himself. Henry is a man of health and sound of body but he suffers from a paralysis of the will, he is inflicted by a stupor brought on by too many months of living close to the war. This blind stupor is also the reason being Henry’s paradoxical failure to visit the priest native hometown Abruzzi. When he comes back from leave and after having talked to the priest, he nurses “I myself felt as badly as he did and could not understand why I had not gone. It was what I had wanted to do”. Even the one constructive activity he had been capable of i.e. of performing his duties as an officer of the ambulance unit begins to lose its importance and look like an absurdity and of no significance as he realizes that his presence or absence hardly makes any major difference in the smooth running of things.

The Irony in being Wounded

      The grotesque elements of the war gains more and more attention and the war plunges forward. It begins to be felt that maybe these elements are really indigenous to life and at this point are being emphasized by the war. Catherine gives Henry an image of Saint Anthony. It is supposed to bring good luck and protect the wearer. But ironically Henry who wasn’t going to wear it does so at the suggestion of his driver and later after he got wounded, he lost it and never got it back. He says “After I was wounded I never found him. Someone probably got it at one of the dressing stations. It was such a situation that even good luck charms got stolen. Another irony is in how Henry’s ambulance unit makes elaborate arrangements for taking care of those who shall be wounded during the Italian offensive. However, it is Henry himself gets seriously wounded on the very first day, that also while eating spaghetti and talking to the four drivers in the dugout. He himself therefore becomes one of the first to be evacuated to the field hospital. Another irony is that because he is severely wounded he shall get a bronze medal for bravery and according to Rinaldi, if he recounts any heroic deed, it doesn’t matter whether fictional or otherwise he shall get a silver medal.

Henry Compared and Contrasted with Ettore

      The period of Henry’s convalescence in Milan has an integral function in the ironical structure of the narrative. Far away from the war front in Milan, Henry is far removed from the war and becomes an integral part of the civilian life in Milan. Here life is pleasant and safe as opposed to the horror and death at the war front. Compounding this irony is the professional war hero Ettore Moretti another Italian American in the Italian army. He is from San Francisco and had been visiting his parents when war was declared and had promptly enlisted. The portrait that Hemingway paints of Ettore is satirical, he is really a war hero but he finds the social life of wartime Milan perfectly normal and ordinary. His views of the war is the complete opposite of Henry’s. Henry finds the medals of bravery amount to nothing much but not so for Ettore. He says ‘Believe me they are fine to have. And he prefers stripes to medals, saying “I would rather have there than medals. Believe me, boy, when you get three you’ve got something.

The Irony of the Retreat

      When Henry returns to the front after his convalescence in Milan and his romance with Catherine, he finds himself stuck in the nightmarish retreat at Caporetto. Hemingway’s account of this retreat is famous as pungent comments on the harsh brutality of the war, the bewildering stupidity and chaos of war. Hemingway uses this occasion to again introduce an element of special irony. As Henry tries to follow orders and get the ambulances to Porduone, they take a side road and the ambulances get stuck in the mud. The two Lieutenants whom they had picked up on the road refuse to help because they themselves are in a hurry to get away from the retreat. They walk away unmindful of Henry’s command and Henry’s exasperated anger shoots at them wounding one. Bonello, one of the drivers, shoot him dead afterward with Henry’s consent. The irony is that Bonello, later on, seeing the uselessness of things goes away in order to allow himself to be captured. The further climax of this episode comes when Henry finds himself at the receiving end. He is about to be questioned by the military police who are executing officers after summary trials. He is sure he shall be mistaken to a German in Italian uniform and shot. He therefore takes his chance, jumping into the Tagliamento river and escaping. He also thus deserts the army. He says “I saw how their minds worked if they had minds and if they worked. They were all young men and they were saving their country....the questioners had that beautiful detachment and devotion to stern justice of men dealing in death without being iii any danger of it”.

      This remark rings with ironic overtones as he himself had met out the same kind of punishment to the two Lieutenants. He had also been completely detached as he shot at them and later allowed one of them to be killed.

Disruption in Love

      A Farewell to Arms has many other examples of irony. However, the novels predominantly ironic texture comes from the series identifying the activities of war with all that is brutal and meaningless in human life. The catastrophe of the novel that is Catherine Barkley’s shocking death, which could in no way have been avoided or in anyway avoided which was neither a result of the social situation both personal and public but a biological accident: her small hips constricting the birth of her child, has the double effect of partly caviling this identification while at the same time violently enforcing the total effect of irony. It is as if the author were saying that cruelty and disruption are not confined to war but are conditions of life itself. The full ironic ambiguity of the title, a farewell to arms implying on the one hand weapons and war and on the other the embraces of the beloved here his loved one Catherine, spring into complete view as the novel ends and Henry walks away in the rain.

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