The Use of Symbolism in Hemmingway’s A Farewell to Arms Analysis

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A Farewell to Arms is one of the greatest tragic love stories of the twentieth century. The novel which was written by Ernest Hemingway was published in 1929, and could possibly be one of the best novels that was been written about World War I. Throughout the novel Hemingway tries to bring light to the truths about war. He does not focus on the heroic picture that many picture of war, as shines a light on the hardships of war. The author makes use of symbolism throughout the novel in order to show the reader the struggles such as hardships with death, wounds inflicted from war, and the toll war can take on relationships.

The Use of Nature To be able to properly analyze the novel, the reader has to understand how the symbolic structure is formed by the author. In this case, Hemingway has used nature as a way to contrast with the emotions of the characters. Chapter 1 begins with the following: “In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains…the plain was rich with crops…and beyond the plains the mountains were brown and bare” (Hemingway 3). The author positioned the main character on a kind of lookout point which effectively conveys feelings of detachment (Bloom 31).

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But for several scholars, this is just another example of Hemingway’s style: “lean, understated, evocative, spare and without emotion” (Bloom 31) The introductory line to the novel sets the mood for the rest of the chapter. This form of imagery was used in the first chapter, leaving it up to the imagination of the reader to interpret the characters emotions. The author does this so that he does not have to go into detail about the characters feelings. Bloom says that Hemingway’s use of nature as symbolism is no surprise as he is one author well-known for his “love of open water and other wild places in nature” (Bloom 31).

Hemingway portrays life in the first chapter as– brown, bare, hopeless when he uses the words bare and dusty to describe a road that the troops marched on. The narrator goes into detail describing the plains as follows: “The plain was rich with crops; there were many orchards of fruit trees and beyond the plain the mountains were brown and bare” (Hemingway 3). This description allows the reader to know that the people of the town were able to go on with their lives, with plenty of food on the table, living as comfortably as they could while the war went on in their backyards.

The author shows us that this place is considered a normal home for villagers. Yet, with all that is occurring on the side of the mountains, how can home be considered normal? Hemingway uses nature as symbolism in chapter 1 when he describes the following night. “In the dark it was like summer lightning, but the nights were cool and there was not a feeling of a storm coming” (Hemingway 3). The villagers knew that fighting was going on all around them, but it was far enough away that it did not impact their daily lives. Towards the end of Chapter 1 a switch occurs.

While not much had occurred in the village, the fighting had become quite unsuccessful. When the troops had experienced this change in the fighting force, they also experienced a change in the weather- fall was arriving. The author uses this change in weather and foreshadows that something terrible is coming. The author tells the reader that things went very badly. Winter had arrived, and with winter came the permanent rain which accompanied cholera. The intestinal disease took out seven thousand soldiers that year from the Italian Army. In the novel, the rain was used as a symbol of death.

A year passed between Chapters 1 and 2, and the name of the main character, Frederick Henry, had yet to be introduced to the reader at this point. The protagonist isn’t much of a bold character. He tends to sit back and observe the crowd with no commentary; he is an observer. Henry is a Lieutenant serving in the ambulance corps in the Italian Army. As spring began to approach, Frederick finds himself stuck in a state of confusion about his life. The war is affecting him and others in such a way that he becomes uncertain with what he’s doing in his life, whether he is content or not.

As Henry goes through these changes within himself, spring is upon his and with spring comes a sign of hope. The Use of Light With the change of the season, change occurs immediately upon reading Chapter 4. “The battery in the next garden woke me in the morning and I saw the sun coming through the window and got out of the bed” (Hemingway 15). The light is symbolic towards Henry’s mood, even though the character himself doesn’t know it yet, everything is going to change for him. It was on this sunny day that he met Ms. Catherine Barkley. In the beginning of their romance, the reader is confused by the actions of both Ms.

Barkley and Mr. Frederick. “He is impulsive and fatalistic about his choices [such as driving the ambulance for the Italians while he is an American], and she plays with the notion that everything has an explanation [“I was brought up to think there was”]” (Bloom 33). As one see’s how the relationship between Catherine and Henry develops, they can see how quickly the two have become intimate with one another due to the effects of the war. At first, Catherine seems to be using Henry for comfort due to her loss. Catherine then reveals to Henry about her previous engagement to a man whom she’d lost due to the war.

Although he did not believe so himself, Henry was falling in love with Catherine. At first Henry had wished it would simply be a relationship based on sexual pleasure. Hemingway represents the love that the two have for each other through Catherine’s hair. Henry says: “I loved to take her hair down and she sat on the bed and kept very still, except suddenly would dip down to kiss me while I was doing it… and it was the feeling of inside a tent or behind a falls” (Hemingway 114). “Henry and Catherine being inside her hair which forms a kind of tent over them, while they make love, may be taken as a womb symbol” (Rao 57).

Her hair also being seen as a womb is symbolic as for later in the novel when Catherine becomes pregnant by Henry. The Use of Symbols One can go into great detail trying to analyze the many ways that Hemingway uses symbolism in the novel A Farewell to Arms. Taking a look at the novel, the occurrence of rain is constant from the beginning to the end. The author has presented the rain in many different manners such as rivers, lakes, rain and snow. As was covered in Chapter 1, the reader is able to contrast that rain symbolizes death. “Catherine sometimes sees herself and Henry dead in the rain” (Rao 59).

This was the most direct ways that Hemingway used rain as a symbol of death. Although, when reading through the climax of the novel, the author gives the reader hope for it was through means of water that Henry escaped the war and returned to Ms. Barkley. The rain was a symbol of trouble and turmoil for Henry. “When Fredrick was wounded, he is taken to the field hospital and “a rain” of blood falls on him from the stretcher above him. This is used to associate rain with destruction and pain, struggles and sufferings” (Shams). Catherine is seen to be afraid of

the rain due to her fear of seeing herself dead. “As Frederick and Catherine try to escape to Switzerland across the lake in a boat, their journey is lashed by rains” (Shams 45). The events that occurred when Catherine went into labor are tragic, and could be foreshadowed upon when it rained the day that she told Henry of her pregnancy. To finish the novel, after Henry discovered that Catherine and the baby were gone, he left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain. (Hemingway 332). The author ended the novel with the word rain. The main character was left with nobody.

He had fled the Army, snuck off to be with Catherine and the baby, to be left with only rain. The river and the lake are used symbolically to divide the opposing sides from one another. The Austrian front is separated from the Caperatto retreat in Chapter 3 by a river. Fredric and his company were trapped in the enemy side of the river. This shows how the river is used to divide territories, creating a place where one can distinguish the sides between the opposing and the allies. Ishteyaque Shams takes note that it is important to see that the retreat of the Italian Army, which occurs at Gorizia, is accompanied by rain (45).

Fredric’s escape from capture and death by jumping into the river shows how the river is symbolic when dividing the enemy lines. The river was the divider between his life and his death. Snow represented the first time that the soldiers weren’t fighting. ““Snow” is seen as able to postpone the consequences of death but doesn’t really cure mortality; it is viewed as an aesthetic” (Shams). Whether it is the snow or the color white, it brings a sense of false hope into the novel, for death is only delayed for a little while longer. The snow is a form of safety, like when Catherine and Henry were in the Swiss Alps surrounded by snow.

Other means of representing the tragedy that occurs throughout the novel is with the mountains. The battle front is located upon mountains where the battle is fought, and where many dead lay. Fredrick was wounded at the end of a long mountain, and he is bothered by the violence that arises from the mountains. The snowing in the mountains of Switzerland encourages Catherine and Fredrick to go to the mountains. Irony is then implemented into the novel, because Catherine and Frederick escaped to the mountains of Switzerland so that they could escape from the war.

The plains in the novel are similar to the symbols used for the rain and the mountains. Things such as diseases, suffering, death, non-religious, and war were presented to the novel when the priest says suggested that Henry take leave and go to Abruzzi, the Priest’s hometown. That is has kind and polite people and with hospitality and a sense of natural beauty. “The plains are some sort of sharp contrast to this, it is characterized with drunkenness, prostitutes, destruction, cheap cafes and some other signs of low level life style” (Shams). Conclusion

Symbolism was implemented in many different ways throughout the entire novel. Ernest Hemingway is able to link two things together in a manner allowing the novel to be easily understood by the reader. He manages draws the readers in by using symbols to represent something more than just what it is, such as rain to represent death, weather to represent mood, etc…“It is something really important and interesting to see that in A Farewell to Arms Hemingway makes a very intricate but meaningful combination of images and symbols in order to be able to express whatever he has to convey to his readers” (Shams 44).

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The Use of Symbolism in Hemmingway’s A Farewell to Arms Analysis. (2016, Jul 22). Retrieved from

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