A Farewell to Arms

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A Farewell to Arms Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway grew up outside a suburb of Chicago, spending summers with his family in rural Michigan. After high school, he got a job writing for The Kansas City Star, but left after only six months to join the Red Cross Ambulance Corps during World War I, where he was injured and awarded the Silver Medal of Military Valor. Afterward, he lived in Ontario and Chicago, where he met his first wife, Hadley Richardson. In 1921 they moved to Paris, where he began a long friendship with F. Scott Fitzgerald and other ex-patriot American writers of the "lost generation." After the 1926 publication of his first novel, The Sun Also Rises, he divorced Hadley and married Arkansas native Pauline Pfeiffer. The couple moved to Florida, where Hemingway wrote A Farewell to Arms (1929), which became a bestseller. Hemingway finally moved to Spain to serve as a war correspondent in the Spanish Civil War, a job which inspired his famous 1939 novel For Whom the Bell Tolls. After its publication, he met his third wife, Martha Gellhorn. Hemingway married his fourth and final wife, Mary Hemingway, in 1946, and the couple spent the next fourteen years living in Cuba. After a final move to Idaho, Hemingway took his own life in 1961, following in the footsteps of his father who had committed suicide in 1928. Hemingway left behind his wife and three sons.
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Historical Context of A Farewell to Arms

World War I (1914–1918) was fought between the great powers of Germany and Austria on one side and Great Britain, France, Russia and the United States on the other. It is estimated to have caused 20 million military and civilian deaths, and astonished people with its unprecedented bloodshed. Italy, the nation whose army Frederic Henry is involved with, joined the war in 1915. The Italians' main strategic goal was to prevent German troops from reinforcing Austrian troops on the eastern front. The most historically significant event depicted in the novel is the Italian retreat that took place following the Battle of Caporetto on October 24, 1917. However, in October 1918 the rejuvenated Italian army mounted an offensive that resulted in the surrender of 300,000 Austrian soldiers, and hastened Austria's defeat in the war.

Other Books Related to A Farewell to Arms

An oft-cited model for A Farewell to Arms is Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage (1895), a Civil War novel that also features a protagonist named Henry who deserts from his army. Crane's Henry sees the war as a lost cause, but eventually returns and is redeemed through heroism in battle, something Hemingway did not allow his protagonist to do. All Quiet on the Western Front (1929), by Erich Maria Remarque, is seen as a counterpart to A Farewell to Arms: another anti-war novel set in the trenches of World War I, it was published in German the same year that A Farewell to Arms was published in English.
Key Facts about A Farewell to Arms
  • Full Title: A Farewell to Arms
  • When Written: 1928
  • Where Written: Piggott, Arkansas
  • When Published: May–October, 1929
  • Literary Period: Modernism
  • Genre: War Novel
  • Setting: Italy and Switzerland during World War I, 1916–1918
  • Climax: Catherine Barkley dies during childbirth.
  • Antagonist: The military system, including the enemy troops of Austria and Germany, the chaotically organized Italian army, and the ruthless military police.
  • Point of View: First-person; (Frederic Henry is the narrator.)

Extra Credit for A Farewell to Arms

Farewell to Hollywood: A Farewell to Arms has been adapted for film three times: the 1932 Gary Cooper film was nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award, the 1957 remake starring Rock Hudson got a Best Supporting Actor nomination. A BBC version of the film was also made in 1966.

Autobiographical: Hemingway's injury in World War I resembled that suffered by Henry in A Farewell to Arms. Hemingway also had a brief affair with a nurse during his recovery.