Hemingway’s Prose Style in the novel - A Farewell to Arms

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      Ernst Hemingway is considered to be one of the greatest novelist of the twentieth century. He is critically acclaimed as well as financially successful winning both the Pulitzer and the Nobel Prize for his novel ‘The Old Man and The Sea’. He achieved fame as unsurpassed by any other writer of the twentieth century. ‘A Farewell to Arms’ was one of the novels that firmly established Hemingway’s position as a novelist of repute in the world. A discussion of the qualities that distinguished him and his novels follow.

Autobiographical Elements

      Hemingway’s novels are usually based on his personal and private experiences. All his novels have an abundance of autobiographical elements. A Farewell to Arms might then, from this sense, be called a slight reworking of autobiography. Hemingway after being rejected from active military service due to an eye defect had joined the American Red Cross as an ambulance driver, he was then badly injured in his legs on the Italian front. He was hospitalized in Milan and fell in love with a nurse there, an American Agnes Kurowsky who refused to marry him. Similarly, the novel recounts the hero Frederic Henry an American joining the Italian Ambulance Unit details and how he gets injured, his legs are almost blown away and then his recuperation in the American hospital in Milan. He also falls in love with a nurse Catherine, however in the novel she is British and though she also refuses to marry him, she fully returns his love and the rest of the novel is about their love story, Hemingway got a medal for bravery. In the novel an ironic twist is given, Henry gets a medal just for getting seriously wounded. Hemingway’s description of the Caporetto Retreat is also borne out of his first-hand encounter of the Turkish Retreat hence the realistic effect is heightened. Other incidents like Catherine’s cesarean, the description of the Swiss Mountain and the scenes of the war are all drawn from Hemingway’s personal experience and this heightens the beauty and realism of the text.

Hemingway’s Prose Style

      Another very important aspect of Hemingway as a novelist is his unique prose style which is an original style, which has spawned a horde of imitators but none equaled him. Hemingway’s prose style is characterized by an ultra-simple style simple diction and sentence structure and the use of a colloquial style in rendering dialogue. He uses words which are simple and common and are of everyday use. Even a school boy would have no difficulty in reading his text. He is also a man prone to economy of writing. The effect of his writing is therefore one of crispness and clarity. There are no redundant elements in his writing. He gives terse descriptions like for example when he describes the soldier bleeding to death in the ambulance and taking Henry to the field hospital. Hemingway writes: “the drops fell very slowly as they fall from an icicle after the sun has gone. Hemingway was against the so-called classical style which was characterized by obscure words, complicated style and an elaborate and ornate syntax. He preferred an austere, simplistic style over the embellished or copious style adopted by other authors. He uses short words, short sentences and simple diction keeping the description to an appropriate minimum. Take for instance the following paragraph from chapter 32 :

      I was not made to think. I was made to eat. My God, yes. Eat and drink and sleep with Catherine. Tonight maybe. No that was impossible. But tomorrow night, and a good meal and sheets and never going away again except together. Probably have to go damned quickly. She would go. I knew she would go. When would we go? That was something to think about. It was getting dark. I lay and thought where we would go. There were many places.

      As we can see, there are no flourishes, no rhetoric or any attempt at effect. This is absolute matter-of-fact writing. Hemingway’s dialogue follows the same pattern. His style is spare, extremely un excessive, short breathed and prone to understatement. Here is an excerpt as example. This is the dialogue that takes place between Henry and the porter’s wife as he comes looking for Catherine in Milan.

You are back. You are safe’.
‘Have you had break fast ?’
‘How are you, Tenek? How are you? The wife asked. ‘Fine’.
‘Won’t you have breakfast with us ?’
‘No, thank you. Tell me is Miss Barkley here at the hospital now?’ ‘Miss Barkley ?’
‘The English Lady nurse’.
‘His girl’, the wife said. She patted my arms and smiled. ‘No’, the porter said. ‘She is away’.
My heart went down. ‘You are sure? I mean the tall blonde English lady’.
‘I am sure. She is gone to Streesa’.
‘Wlien did she go ?’
‘She went two days ago with the other English lady’.

Character Portrayal

      Hemingway’s ability for character portrayal has been subject to much criticism. It has been charged that in A Farewell to Arms his portrayal of the characters leaves much to be desired, that they seem more like shadowy abstractions. It has also been charged that Hemingway was unable to create memorable characters. However, these charges cannot be accepted completely The ability to create and delineate realistic characters is not totally absent in Hemingway Henry, the protagonist of the novel is a character very much real and life-like even though his antecedent and history are never made clear. This is not dealt with because it is not of any concern to Hemingway. Henry’s present is his only dimension as Hemingway’s concern is with his growth, change and reactions to actions and events of the present. Catherine on the other hand is charged for being too passive and so much in love as to lose her individuality to merge herself with Henry. She doesn’t seem to exist as an individual woman but as a male fantasy of the perfect lover and ideal wife. However, we cannot disregard her as a flat character. Her extreme devotion to Henry is not implausible and in any case, it is a necessity here, to draw the proper response from Henry. As for the horde of minor characters in the novel who do not seem to have life beyond a few pages, they are super successful characters: Rinaldi, the priest, the drivers, Count Greffi, Ettore Moretti, the Meyers, Helen Ferguson, Dr. Valentini, the barman ete. etc. who are sketched briefly but very vividly and effectively. They are created with an individual stamp and with a specific purpose. For example the priest is a stoic man of honor who loves God above everything and gives an ideal definition of love. He is to be the point of comparing and contrasting Henry his natures and his views on war and love. Thus Hemingway creates memorable characters.

Symbolism and Irony

      Hemingway’s writing is also marked by the use of symbolism and irony. The subject of symbolism in Hemingway’s fiction was first brought to light through the eminent critic Malcolm Cowley. Carlos Baker has pointed out Hemingway’s use of the mountain and plains as symbols for the concept of home and not-home. The mountains represent peace, warmth and love whereas the plain are symbolic of death, despair and destruction. The most striking symbolism in the novel however, is that of the rain. Rain is used as a symbol of disaster of impending doom and death. As the novel opens the rain brings cholera killing seven thousand in the army. Rain forms the background of the war, it rains as Henry leaves Catherine to come back to the front, the retreat takes place in the midst of rain and mud. It is storming when Henry hears that he may be arrested the next morning and as he and Catherine flow across the lake during the night towards Switzerland to escape and in the end it is raining as Catherine dies and Henry walks back in the rain. Another literary device frequently adopted by Hemingway is his use of irony. He uses irony to bring into sharp focus man’s helplessness at the hands of the forces of nature. Example can be taken of how Henry-goes to the front where the offensive is to brings back wounded soldiers, is himself severely wounded while in a dugout eating spaghetti and cheese. A further irony can be seen in Catherine’s death. She who Escapes the war and society dies because of a natural defect that renders all human effort useless and thus putting an abrupt end to all their and our hopes of further conjugal bliss.

The Theme of Death and Despair

      A recurring theme in Hemingway’s novels are death and despair. Hemingway seems rather preoccupied with violence, death and war. All his life he was fascinated with war and in A Farewell to Arms, he is again concerned with the theme of war. He depicts the violence of war and deals with the dominant emotion of disappointment, suffering, defeat and despair. The novel is a grim and somber account of these emotions with three brief interludes of love, joy and happiness in the love affair of Henry and Catherine from Milan, Stressa to the mountain in Montreux but even these are interspersed with grim reminders of the war. The novel tells a grim story of disillusionment and frustration with Henry grappling with the brutality and horror of war to finally culminate in Catherine’s death which is long and arduous episode. Catherine undergoes a long, difficult and immensely painful labor and yet give birth to a stillborn and then die due to internal hemorrhage. Hemingway’s pessimism finds full expression in her death. His pessimism has been attributed to his belonging to the post war generation, the ‘Lost Generation’ as Gertrude Stein called them.

The Code Hero

      Another marked characteristic of the novels of Hemingway is the presence of the Hemingway’s code hero. The Hemingway code hero is a label given to the protagonist in his novels who share certain traits and characteristics. He is usually a man who is wounded both physically and psychologically. He tends to break away from an organized and ordered society. He is furthermore made to face death and defeat but he is not a coward. He has a strong capacity for stoic endurance of his sate, fate and this implies a kind of victory even in defeat. Finally, the. Hemingway’s hero is something of a hedonist seeking pleasure in the life of the senses. Now all these senses are clearly evident in Henry, the protagonist of A Farewell to Arms. He rejects the world and society in his retreat to the mountain with Catherine, he finds escape from his thoughts in drink and casual sex, he is then wounded physically, and later in the retreat, he is psychologically wounded. He is also subjected to the agony of Catherine’s death though it is left to us to imagine that he will adopt an attitude of stoic acceptance of this tragedy in his life and will eventually rise above it to face the future. Apart from the code hero also implies the ideal. That is a code hero who corrects the Hemingway hero’s stance and makes up for his deficiencies. The priest in this novel is the closest approximation to this code. In the novel, he defines true and ideal love and he tries to correct Henry’s attitude to love and sex and his attitude towards God. The presence of this code hero is another brilliant aspect of Hemingway’s novels.

A Idealistic Novel

      These characteristics as enumerated above, show Hemingway as a realistic novelist. The love story set in the background of war is beautiful, poignant and convincing. The story, the background and the characters are all given realistic touches through autobiographical elements and a profusion of minor details and vivid descriptions of scene be it pertaining to war or otherwise. Hemingway also uses a reportorial style which adds to the realism of the novel.

A Master Storyteller

      Hemingway is therefore a novelist par excellence. His genius as a storyteller is evident in the way he fuses two stories that of war and that of love in the novel and uses them as a platform to discuss a more deeper reality in man’s life. Hemingway’s narrative style is gripping and one is enthralled into reading through the novel at one sitting. Hemingway deals with a very serious subject but he uses popular ingredients that make the novel riveting and appealing. These ingredients are action, adventure, violence, excitement, suspense and a love angle. The highlight of the novel from the point of view of suspense and adventure is the scene of Henry’s confrontation with the Italian Battle police and his subsequent escape by jumping into the river and swimming away. The love scenes are soft and tender and give relief from time to time. The musings and ruminations that Henry frequently indulges in from time to time ends a psychological and philosophical touch. His meditations on love and the concept of honor, glory etc also adds to this aspect. Hemingway is thus a brilliant craftsman and his place among the greatest novelist of the century is assured.

University Questions also can be Answered:

Examine critically Hemingway as a novelist and prose writer with reference to A Farewell to Arms.
Critically analyze Hemingway’s prose style in the novel, A Farewell to Arms.
Enumerate the qualities of Hemingway as a novelist and as a prose writer that renders A Farewell to Arms, a modern masterpiece.

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