Symbolic Meanings In A Farewell to Arms

A Farewell to Arms is the first successful work of Ernest Hemingway, the great American writer, who published it in 1929. It tells about the war experience of the author, which was received in the trenches of the World War I, and presents a masterful description of the war atrocities and the imposed love story of Catherine, a hospital nurse, a Frederic Henry, an American, serving as a military officer in the ambulance corps of Italian Army.

Rain serves in this novel as a symbol of life happiness, and, on the other hand, as the symbol of love transience. Everything has its beginning and its end. The same relates to love, too. When rain dropped on the roof, Catharine felt the approach of the Grim Reaper. Her thoughts were prophetic and soon she died in hospital. Her sweetheart Henry, being full of despair, also went home under the heavy rain. In such a way, Ernest Hemingway subconsciously underlined that even a great love could not be long.

Catherine Hair is powerful love symbol of this literature work. While lying together with Catherine, Henry always enjoyed her beautiful hair, being covered with her long loose hair streams. Her delicate locks, without hairpins, taken by Henry, protected him and permitted him to forget about all war hardships and horrors. Henry could not imagine his war life, without being encircled by her hair, and without being “inside a tent or behind a falls”. He got the feeling of a warm household, deep love, and complete independence. People are not born to kill each other, but to love their families, their children, and their sweethearts.

The Beard of Henry, as a symbol, is very close to the hair of Catherine. While living in peaceful Switzerland, Catherine felt that the longer this beard was, the happier she was, and the more protected she felt. It was the calm family life that she wanted most of all in her life. Unfortunately, her happy family life turned out to be too flimsy and too fragile.

Papers, which are mentioned for a lot of times in the novel of Ernest Hemingway, testify that this word is used as a diacope stylistic figure, and present one of the main symbols of this literature work.

First of all, the word “papers” relate to the documents, which permitted Italian soldiers and officers to have a rest, to be treated in hospitals, or just to walk along the peaceful town streets during the WW I. Without “papers” any Italian military serviceman could be detained or even arrested. So, in this meaning, for Frederic Henry, an American expat, and all Italian combatants, who got tired of that bloody war, “papers” were a symbol of peace and freedom.

Secondly, if somebody kept the papers of another person in his pocket, it meant that this person had already died on the war battlefields. Therefore, in this case, “papers” turned into the symbol of death.

Thirdly, judging upon the plot of the novel, Frederic constantly read some newspapers and tried hard to seek and to analyze any information about WWI events. Frederic didn`t write any articles but, subconsciously, he became a journalistic image of Ernst Hemingway. So, in this case, “papers” are perceived as the symbol of journalistic creativity, which keeps on functioning under the heaviest conditions of this mayhem and merciless war.

In such a way, “papers” present a composite symbol. While writing constantly “papers, papers, papers”, the author of this story hinted that without “papers” any person is a serf of the system, papers give freedom, papers give death, papers give eternity.

Bacchus symbol does not yield the previous one in the frequency of its usage. In vino veritas, in aqua sanitas told the ancient Romans, and Ernst Hemingway completely shared this idea. “No Bacchus, I said. Yes, Bacchus, he said’. For his hero, Frederic Henry, wine drinking was a kind of effective stress relieving, the means of survival among the horrors of this war. They say that Winston Churchill shared this idea and not once he remarked that the bottle of whiskey is the best psychologist. Ernest Hemingway did not try to promote hard drinking, with its absurd aggression and senseless violence. And not once he shows in his novel that being drunk Frederick hurt Catherine and was too brutal with her. Nevertheless, for the author of the novel wine was a symbol of spiritual and sexual freedom, the symbol of stress relieving, and the symbol of creative ecstasy.

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February 19, 2017

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