NEA Big Read
A Farewell to Arms

A Farewell to Arms

by Ernest Hemingway

All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you...

Ernest Hemingway in Paris, 1928 (The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston)

  1. Hemingway reveals almost nothing about the background of Frederic Henry or the other characters. How does the elimination of character history contribute to Hemingway’s crafting of the novel? Instead of biographical histories, how does Hemingway provide us with insight into character development? In other words, what devices substitute for personal histories? Has Hemingway used these devices successfully?
  2. “Perhaps wars weren’t won anymore,” Henry muses. “Maybe they went on forever. Maybe it was another Hundred Years’ War” (Chapter XIX). The tactics and strategy of war have changed since Hemingway wrote A Farewell to Arms. Research the facts of World War I in Italy, military technology, and strategy. Write a historical essay on how actual events have been depicted in the novel. How does Hemingway’s tale follow or diverge from the actual events of the war? How might this affect an interpretation of the novel?
  3. In Chapter XIX, Henry tells us of Ettore, an Italian-American who had received numerous medals: “He was a legitimate hero who bored every one he met.” What concept of heroism does Hemingway present through Henry and others? Could Catherine be considered a hero? What kind of hero? Or, does Hemingway depict Henry as an anti-hero? Cite passages to support your argument.
  4. Catherine tells Frederic, “You’re my religion. You’re all I’ve got” (Chapter XVIII). Henry implies that he has no religion. The priest advocates religion under very difficult conditions and admits that he is hopeless. Returning to our lessons, pick a focus (culture and history, characters/character development, figurative language, plot, or themes) to provide a portrait of religion in the novel. Is Hemingway making a statement about the relation of religious belief to the war? Support your argument with quotes from the text.
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