Theme of Love and Death in - A Farewell To Arms

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The Themes of Death and Love

      In the fiction of Hemingway, the subject of death and love hold a very important place. Hemingway was fascinated by war throughout his life and the subject of death. In his novels, death holds the dominant place. Even in the novel “A Farewell to Arms” where he recounts a love story in the background of war, death holds a very prominent and important position. This preoccupation with death has aroused a large number of comments and has been variously described as the cult of death, a death wish, an obsession with death, and so on. Hemingway himself admitted his fascination and said that it was one of the subjects he most wanted to write on. Therefore death figures largely in all his fiction are it short stories or novels. However, Hemingway was not completely morbid. He is also largely concerned with love. His major novels such as The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls etc. contain passionate love stories even if they have tragic endings.

Death and its Many Faces in the Novel

      In A Farewell to Arms, death is introduced in the very introductory chapter. This chapter points a gloomy, dismal picture of the war and the troops of war and ends with how cholera brought by the permanent rain of winter killed seven thousand soldiers in the army. As the novel progresses death and wounds mark the story. In the offensive, a shell from the Austrian side explodes over the dugout where Henry and his drivers are. While Henry himself is severely wounded, he also witnesses one of his drivers, Passini dying right in front of his eyes, groaning “Mamma mia ! oh, mamma mia !” in pain. Then follows the description of the soldier in the stretcher above Henry in the ambulance, bleeds and Henry describes it as: ‘I felt something dripping. At first dropped slowly and regularly, then it pattered into a stream’. Later after the man has bled to death, Hemingway writes “the drops fell very slowly, as they fall from an icicle after the sun has gone. Later while Henry is convalescing in the Hospital in Milan he is informed of the huge casualty suffered by the Italian army. One hundred and fifty thousand men had been killed on the Bainsizza plateau and another forty thousand had been killed on the Caro. The sentiment then expressed is that at the rate the Italians were dying, they were sure to be licked. Henry’s encounter with death face to face continues. During the retreat, he is forced to shoot, one of the sergeants he had given a lift to. One is hit and then he gives permission to Bonello to si toot and kill the man. Shortly as they make their way towards Pordenone, the Italian rear guard shoots at them wounding Aymo and he dies before Henry. “He lay in the mud on the side of the embankment, his feet pointing downhill breathing blood irregularly. He died while I was stopping up the two holes ... He looked very dead”. Further the incident oil the bridge over the Tagliamento river also accounts how the Italian Military Police were executing all the officers above the rank of major and above. They simply asked some summary question and if the officer was separated from the troops he was shot. Henry witnesses several officers being shot. Then Henry himself comes close to death when the Carabinieri also grabs him. He knows that they shall charge him of being a German in Italian uniform and executes him too. So he jumps into the river and swims away.

The Final Death Scene

      The novel contains therefore innumerable death scenes which are pitiful and moving. However, the most moving, poignant death in the novel is the death scene in the last chapter which deals with Catherine’s death. This final catastrophe does not occur as a bolt from the blue. There had been hints and foreboding towards right from the very beginning. When she tells Henry of her pregnancy and assures him not to worry, she tells him that all sorts of dreadful things will happen to them during the war and later in life. Then in the hospital room in Milan, she cries inconsolably saying that she was afraid of the rain because sometimes she saw Henry's death in it. Later, the doctor tells Catherine that her hips are very narrow and so it would be better if she tried to keep the baby small. And as her time for delivery comes close Henry tells us that she was big with the baby and later Hemingway writes “we knew the baby was very close now and it gave us both a feeling as though something was hurrying us and we could not lose anytime together.” Then as Catherine goes into labor, there is an account of the harrowing time that she has. She has very severe pains continuously for a long period of time. The pathos of the situation is magnified by the thoughts that run through Henry’s mind.

      ‘‘Poor, poor dear cat. And this was the price you paid for sleeping together. This was the end of the trap. This was what people got for loving each other”,

      As the situation worsens and the doctors decide on a cesarean, Henry prays fervently. “Oh, God, please don’t let her die. I’ll do anything for you if you don’t let her die. Please, please, please, dear God don’t let her die "...”

      Catherine herself knows that she is going to die but she also knows that she cannot help it. She says, “I’m going to die”, adding, “I hate it”. Catherine is not afraid of death, she just thinks it “a dirty trick” and hates it. She tells Henry, “Don worry, darling. I am not a bit afraid. It’s just a dirty trick”. Catherine suffers one hemorrhage after another which the doctors cannot stop. “They couldn’t stop it. I went into the room and stayed with Catherine until she died. She was unconscious all the time. It did not take long for her to die”. All along Henry had seen others dying now he faces a personal loss. He drove away everyone but it was of no use. It was like saying goodbye to, a statue. Henry then walks away in the rain.

Hemingway’s Code

      Hemingway’s heroes and heroines follow a code. They are courageous in the face of death. Catherine doesn’t deserve to die. Nor is her death a kind of punishment for any guile, trickery or ill-will that she performed. She is rather a wonderful person almost the perfect woman from a male point of view. It is as she says “a dirty trick” that she should die. It is as if God is playing with her. However, she is not afraid of death. She does not Whimper, sob, cry or complain rather she assures Henry not to worry and meets death calmly and courageously. It is therefore a code that Hemingway’s protagonist follow. They all show a similar fortitude in the face of death and their quality is to be judged by the manner of their death. Catherine says “the brave dies perhaps two thousand deaths if he’s intelligent. He simply doesn’t mention then” when Henry tells her “the coward dies a thousand deaths, the brave but one?”

      On the other hand Hemingway’s preoccupation with death does not create a morbid atmosphere. The presence of death only makes the picture complete and makes life all that much more precious. Hemingway takes such a deep interest in death because he is interested in life and by accepting death as the center of life, he accepts and understands the complexities of life.

The Theme of Love

      The novelist is also convened deeply with love. He may be preoccupied with death but he also tells us a beautiful love story though set amidst the war. The war brings Henry an American and Catherine a Britisher together in the Italian front. The war is a necessary background to the love story as shall be made clear shortly.

Falling in Love

      Hemingway once referred to the love story in A Farewell to Arms as his Romeo and Juliet. And yes, its intensity of passion, the dangers threatening it and its tragic end may justify it. The love affair begins casually enough. For Henry, it is just something to do. He merely comes to flirt with her and since it was better than going to the officer’s brothel. It is a game for him, a game like bridge. Catherine realizes Henry’s attitude and calls it a rotten game but cannot help falling in love. Henry also changes slowly and upon seeing her at the Hospital in Milan admits his love. “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”. Hemingway's cult of sensation develops into a cult of love. As the priest had stated, “what happens in the night: is only lust and passion, and love means sacrifice and service. We find Henry progressing from lustful love towards the ideal love as defined by the priest. From this point the love affair develops rapidly marked by intense passion and ardor. “I loved her very much and she loved me”. “Besides all the big times we had many small ways of making love”—are some of the statements that Henry makes. Henry even offers to marry her but she refuses. Later, she again refuses for practical reasons but both begin afterward to feel married in spite of lack of ceremony. And Catherine says: “there isn’t any me. I’m you. Don’t make up a separate me. You’re my religion. You’re all I’ve got”. The love affair is interspersed by somber moments like when Catherine feels like a whore in the hotel room before Henry leaves for the front and their farewell in the rain and later their escape to Switzerland in the night. However, Catherine turns wherever they are into a home and they are happy. Later, Henry deserts the army and thinks only of being with Catherine and never going away from her again. Searching for her, brings him to Stressa and Catherine is again ecstatic when she sees him. He has made “a separate peace” and they have a lovely peaceful stay in Stressa but again the war comes in. Henry might be arrested so they escape, rowing across the lake to Switzerland.

Mountain Idyll

      As they settle into a life in the mountains of Montreux in Switzerland, they move into the realm of romantic idyll. They are far away from the world, completely isolated. The war or any other, even society do not pose a threat to their love. They are alone and contented with each other. They have no desire for company and lead a life of perfect conjugal bliss. Some critics point out that during this Henry seems bored on a number of occasions like when Catherine suggests that Henry grow a beard so that he would have something to do. But such instances only emphasises Henry’s love and contentment that such a man has given to action and adventure lives such a dull life with evident pleasure. Earlier Henry had said that he “felt faint with loving her so much” now when Catherine says that she will turn into a new better Catherine after the baby, he tells her that he loved her so much now, if she became more beautiful, he would be ruined through loving her too much. They apparently love each other with a consuming passion.


      At the end of the novel Hemingway fuses the themes of death and love in the death of Catherine and in it bringing to the fore his real message that of the helplessness of man in the face of the forces controlling the world. And thus it is this dovetailing of love and death and the manner in which Hemingway achieves it that makes the novel a great masterpiece of the twentieth century.

University Questions also can be Answered:

“Death and love are two important themes in A Farewell to Arms, blended artistically”. Examine.
The beauty and greatness of A Farewell to Arms lies in its fusion of two diverse themes, death and love’. Elucidate.
Discuss the effect of dovetailing the themes of love and war in the novel A Farewell to Arms.

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