Reflecting on “A Farewell to Arms” by Ernest Hemingway

a-farewell-to-armsI’ll never forget how much I cried the first time I read this book. Because I couldn’t put it down, I was coming off of a 24 hour reading binge as I was finishing it, and suddenly my exhaustion combined with the tragedy of the end and I just kind of lost it. I had known what happened at the end, thanks to Pat’s furious monologue in Silver Linings Playbook, and yet I still felt like I’d been punched in the face. I couldn’t believe that you could survive war, which is in itself an unnatural thing, and then suddenly die during childbirth, which is considered perhaps the most natural of all occurrences. Furthermore, the first time I read the book, I believed that Catherine and Frederic were truly in love, which made Catherine’s death much more tragic. I was also furious with Hemingway for being like, “I sat with her until she died and then I left the hospital. The end”. If you’re still fairly new to Hemingway and you read something like that, you feel like you’re being cheated out of a real ending and it’s infuriating.

I’m not sure when I decided to write about A Farewell to Arms for my thesis, but I knew when I finished it that I would want to read it again. There was so much about it that just didn’t make sense to me, like why Catherine always sounded so clingy and insecure or why Frederic seemed infuriatingly apathetic. The characters were just so strange, and while I knew that Hemingway had a particularly unique way of writing people, I felt that this was a real stretch from anything I’d previously read.

As my thesis progressed and I became more fluent with trauma and how it operates, I started to see the characters as horribly wounded individuals who are, when the book starts, still trying to get over what they’ve seen and what they’ve experienced. Obviously I get into detail about this in my thesis, but I wanted to write about it on here because I wanted to remember how it felt to re-read the book and move from confusion to compassion for the characters. I continue to be amazed at how Hemingway illustrated mental and emotional trauma, as trauma itself evades language and is considered nearly impossible to describe. It’s not Hemingway’s most “famous” book, but it’s the one that’s touched me the most and it has a special place in my heart for inspiring my thesis. This probably won’t be my last post on the book, since there’s so much to say, but I got nostalgic for a second and wanted to remember some of the things it made me feel.

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