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A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway: Home

About the Novel

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

The novel was first published in 1929.

A Farewell to Arms is considered a great novel of World War I. It is a complex novel dealing with the struggles of a war-torn young man called Frederic Henry. Though it is not autobiographical, there are a few details from Hemingway’s personal life that crept into the novel. For instance, Lieutenant Henry is with an ambulance unit, serving in the Italian Army, just as Hemingway did. He also falls in love with an English nurse when he is recuperating in a hospital, which is also what happened to Hemmingway. Apart from these factual details, however, others in the novel are entirely different from those in Hemingway’s life.

The novel deals with the two major themes of love and war, which are carefully interwoven with each other. In fact, the title itself suggests these two themes, with a pun on the word “Arms.” The hero, Henry, bids farewell to “Arms,” as in weapons, and also, when Catherine dies, to the loving “arms” of a human being.


The Structure of the Novel

A Note on the Structure of the Novel   

This novel is divided into five books, each having eight to twelve chapters. In this respect, the novel resembles a drama, which generally has five acts, further divided into scenes. Each book reveals a carefully controlled action and finely detailed love, for war and love are the two major themes discussed in this novel. When one theme emerges into the foreground, the other recedes into the background, but  the sequence of action runs parallel in both the themes, so the reader gets the feeling of having read a single major theme rather than two.

Book I has war in the foreground; Henry meets Catherine and participates in the battle, during which he is grievously wounded.

Book II has love in the foreground, for the wounded Henry is sent to a hospital, where he meets Catherine again and their love develops.

Book III also has war in the foreground; Henry recovers from his wound, returns to war, is caught up in a retreat, and deserts his post, a serious military offense.

Book IV has love in the foreground as Henry seeks Catherine, who is pregnant with his child.

Book V also has love in the foreground, though war looms ominously in the background, as can be seen when the lovers escape to a neutral territory, Switzerland, where Catherine dies of excessive internal hemorrhaging after a Cesarean operation.

It is also quite interesting to note the flow of action as the two themes of love and war develop. In the war, Henry goes through six stages: (1) a distant and casual participation, (2) a rather serious action (3) a knee-wound, (4) being sent to a hospital to recover, (5) going back to war and getting caught in a retreat, and (6)  deserting his military post. Likewise, Catherine goes through six stages: (1) an inconsequential flirtation (2) genuine love (3) her pregnancy, (4) her stay with Henry in a Villa in Switzerland, (5) arriving at a hospital for delivery, and (6)  having the C-section, which results in her death.

By the time the novel reaches its end, the two themes merge and the grimness of war is conveyed in no uncertain terms to the reader.

The novel contains a first person narrator. Love and war are seen through his eyes. Being told in this manner allows the reader to more easily understand him and sympathize with him when the situation arises.


Professor Dethloff gave your class a project that includes two assignments.

  1. Historical Analysis

This is a group presentation where you will explore and present on an aspect of the Great War (How WWI changed the rules of War or How WWI changed men and women). This is to help you "gain a background understanding for the novel."

      2.    Literary Analysis

You will write a literary analysis research paper on Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms.

Both parts of this project require you to conduct research. Review your assignments to understand your parameters. This will guide you in your research:

  • What types of information will you need?
  • What is the minimum number of resources that you can use?
  • Can you use the same resources in both assignments?

Keep a working bibliography of the sources you find as you conduct your research-keep all the bibliographic information in one place, like a Word document. This will help you when you create your Works Cited at the end of your presentation and paper.

Contact your instructor for clarifications about these assignments.

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