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My Highlights of A Farewell To Arms by Ernest Hemingway

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A novel about an American who volunteers as an ambulance driver in Italy during WW1 and falls in love with a British nurse.  

I am very disappointed by A Farewell To Arms.  

In the description on the back cover it says “It’s a novel of great power”, that Hemingway’s description of war is “unforgettable… he recreates the fear, the comradeship, the courage…” and that he also created a love story of “immense drama and uncompromising passion.”    

I did not find any of this in Farewell.   

I was expecting something of “great power” to happen — that’s the only thing that kept me reading — but it never happened. 

The war scenes are scarce and lack the depth, details, or sufficient reflection from the protagonist to offer a genuine glimpse into the reality of war. They are broad strokes that don’t capture the fear, hopelessness, and tragedy of war. Perhaps this is what Hemingway intended, but it falls flat as a ‘war novel.’ If you want to read a compelling war novel, I suggest The Forgotten Soldier by Guy Sajer. 

But there is no redemption with the love story either. It seems stiff, and the female lead unidimensional.  

This is the Seinfeld of war stories. A story about “nothing”. The concept works perfectly in the 90s sitcom, but does not in Farewell. 

In Farewell, war just seems like an adjacent event to the protagonists drinking and conversations that lead to nothing. In fact, there is more emphasis on the characters’ meals and drinking (especially the drinking) than the war. 

The story starts to pick up towards the end with the hero’s daring escape and the final tragedy. But to get to that point you have to read through multiple sequences of:


“Will you drink a glass of vermouth?” 

“Thank you. You keep it. It’s for you.”

“No, drink a glass.” 

“All right. I will bring you more then.”

The orderly brought the glasses and opened the bottle. He broke off the cork and 

the end had to be shoved down into the bottle. I could see the priest was disappointed but he said, “That’s all right. It’s no matter.”

“Here’s to your health, father.”

“To your better health.”


“Could I eat a chocolate bar?” Catherine asked. “Or is it too close to lunch? I’m

always hungry.”

“Go on and eat one,” I said. 

“I’ll take one with filberts,” Catherine said. 

“They are very good,” the girl said, “I like them the best.” 

“I’ll have another vermouth,” I said.


“What are you thinking, darling?”

“About whiskey.” 

“What about whiskey?” 

“About how nice it is.”

Catherine made a face. “All right,” she said.


There are some lively dialogues, especially with Rinaldi, and some war humor: 


“Because you are gravely wounded. They say if you can prove you did any heroic 

act you can get the silver. Otherwise it will be the bronze. Tell me exactly what happened.  Did you do any heroic act?”

“No,” I said. “I was blown up while we were eating cheese.” 



But I got fed up with the detailed accounts of what everyone is eating and drinking. The protagonist seems lifeless and tired. Maybe that is a metaphor for how tired everyone was with the war at this stage. I understand the character,  but it’s not interesting to read about him. 

I think the theme is pointlessness. Not only the pointlessness of the war, but of everything. War is pointless. But peace time is no different. As soon as we escape the claws of war — we revert to the “mundanity” of daily life. And destroy ourselves  to escape it. We would give anything to escape war but then be captured by the pointlessness of daily life in peacetime.     

And then everything ends in the inevitable tragedy we are all doomed to. 

“If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”

War is just a quick way out. It accelerates the tragedy.  Under a banner of glory, honor, nation, courage. But the guarantee is still there, just that in war you are more likely to pay the amount due instantly.   

 This is not a farewell to Hemingway. I enjoyed Old Man and The Sea, and will explore his other works, but Farewell will remain in my bookshelf collecting dust. 

Memorable passages from A Farewell To Arms  


“Well, I knew I would not be killed. Not in this war. It did not have anything to do with me.”


I had drunk much wine and afterward coffee and Strega  and I explained, winefully, how we did not do the things we wanted to do; we never did such things.


“I don’t know,” I said. “There isn’t always an explanation for everything.” 


“I want what you want. There isn’t any me any more. Just what you want.”


“Because you are gravely wounded. They say if you can prove you did any heroic act you can get the silver. Otherwise it will be the bronze. Tell me exactly what happened.  Did you do any heroic act?”

“No,” I said. “I was blown up while we were eating cheese.” 


You can’t be ashamed of something if you’re only happy and proud of it. 


“Oh, yes. That is true. Already I am only happy when I am working.”


…he was always on the point of something very big happening.


“But life isn’t hard to manage when you’ve nothing to lose.”


“They won’t get us,” I said. “Because you’re too brave. Nothing ever happens to the


“They die of course.” 

“But only once.” 

“I don’t know. Who said that?”

“The coward dies a thousand deaths, the brave but one?” 

“Of course. Who said it?”

“I don’t know.”

“He was probably a coward,” she said. “He knew a great deal about cowards but 

nothing about the brave. The brave dies perhaps two thousand deaths if he’s intelligent. 

He simply doesn’t mention them.”

“I don’t know. It’s hard to see inside the head of the brave.”

“Yes. That’s how they keep that way.”


I don’t know how a room like this would be for waking up in the morning. But it’s  really a splendid room.” 


The questioners had that beautiful detachment and devotion to stern  justice of men dealing in death without being in any danger of it.


I was not made to think. I was made to eat. My God, yes. Eat and drink and sleep with Catherine.


“What you tell me about in the nights. That is not love. That is only passion and lust. When you love you wish to do things for. You wish to sacrifice for. You wish to serve.”


“You’ll never get married. . . . You’ll fight before you’ll marry. . . . Fight or die. That’s what people do. They don’t marry.”


“You cannot know about [happiness] unless you have it”


“There’s no way to be married except by church or state. We are married privately. You see, darling, it would mean everything to me if I had any religion. But I haven’t any religion. . . . You’re my religion. You’re all I’ve got.”


“Perhaps wars weren’t won anymore. Maybe they went on forever.”


“He said we were all cooked but we were all right as long as we did not know it. We were all cooked. The thing was not to recognize it. The last country to realize they were cooked would win the war.”


“It is only in defeat that we become Christian.”


“We could feel alone when we were together, alone against the others.”


“[Many of the soldiers] were beaten to start with. They were beaten when they took them from their farms and put them in the army. That is why the peasant has wisdom, because he is defeated from the start. Put him in power and see how wise he is.”


“I have been alone while I was with many girls and that is the way that you can be most lonely. But we were never lonely and never afraid  when we were together. I know that the night is not the same as the day: that all things are  different, that the things of the night cannot be explained in the day, because they do not then exist, and the night can be a dreadful time for lonely people once their loneliness has  started.


“I had gone to no such place but to the smoke of cafes and nights when the room whirled and you needed to look at the wall to make it stop, nights in bed, drunk, when you knew that that was all there was, and the strange excitement of waking and not knowing who it was with you, and the world all unreal in the dark and so exciting that you must resume again unknowing and not caring in the night, sure that this was all and all and all and not caring. . . . I tried to tell about the night and the difference between the night and the day and how the night was better unless the day was very clean and cold and I could not tell it; as I cannot tell it now.”

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