A Farewell to Arms as an Autobiographical Novel
In this novel ‘A Farewell to Arms‘ autobiographical element is present in the character of its hero Fredric Henry. Actually this hero has the interests, occupation, love-affair with the nurse, view about war, etc. of the author. Sometimes we feel that the name of Henry should be Hemingway. A critic has said about Alexander Pope that he is present in each and every line of his poetry. This remark is also very much suitable for Ernest Hemingway. He has described all his unfulfilled desires and ideas in the personality of his hero.
Hemingway himself saw and experienced both world wars and his knowledge of war was first hand. He directly knew horrors, fears and destructions of war and also knew public as well as military opinion about it. That’s why in his novels war is portrayed in realistic style. Henry looks like Hemingway in the opening of the book as he says:
“We saw the troops marching along the road”.
Soldiers declare it as:
‘Ghastly show’ and ‘rotten game’
Another autobiographical touch seems in the novel when we observe that Fredric Henry is an ambulance driver in Italian army and is participating in war. Hemingway himself participated in war as an ambulance driver in the World War I. That is why it looks realistic when he wrote about military mess and their attitude towards war. To Henry seven thousand deaths in army doesn’t matter. He says:
“….and with the rain came the Cholera. But it was checked and in the end only seven thousand died of it in the army”.
Hemingway on his tenth day of duty in Italy, as he was handing a chocolate bar to a solider, a large mortar shell blasts nearby and Hemingway almost buried in it. His body was filled below the waist with over 250 pieces of, but after regaining consciousness he rescued a badly wounded Italian solider and was turning to help other when he was hit again, with machinegun bullet, below the left knee. Hemingway’s hero Henry also undergoes in these sufferings of the World War I. When Henry with other ambulance drivers was eating food, a heavy shell burst quite close to him and he received serious injuries on his knee. But in that serious condition he helped a solider and rescued him.
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Here one thing is also significant that only this event, injury and bomb blast is not autobiographical rather in Henry’s form Hemingway is expressing his personal views about war. So action as well as conversation has a deep reflection of the author’s personal life and ideas. Passini says about war:
“War is not won by victory”
and here again Hemingway’s personal view is reflecting:
“There is nothing worse than war.”
Hemingway spent several weeks in hospital and there he fell in love with a nurse, like his hero. Henry. But this love was not fully responded by the nurse. He received a letter of that nurse in which she informed him that she was not coming to America and she had married an Italian Major. In A Farewell To Arms, Henry in the wounded position told Catherine that he was crazy in love with her. And Catherine was engaged with a boy who was killed in war. She first time in the very beginning of the novel reacted in a very strange manner when Henry tried to kiss her. In the hospital too, first he was not really in love with Catharine. He said:
“God know I had not wanted to fall in love with I had not wanted to fall in love with anyone.”
But gradually, Henry too, had developed a genuine deep feeling for Catharine. His love is no longer casual or indifferent. Hemingway has projected his own beloved form of his heroine. She has some qualities of his beloved and many other qualities that he wanted to have in her. So here again in the form of Catharine, Hemingway himself or his desire and his beloved is present. He says in Henry’s form that:
“It was lovely in the night and if we could only touch each other we were happy. Besides all the big times we had many small ways of making love ……..”
Catharine adores Henry and she forgets herself in Henry is love she says:
“There isn’t any me. I’m you. Don’t make up a separate me”.
Hemingway describes his own views about love in Catherine’s words:
“You’re my religion. You’re all I’ve got.”
Hemingway in his personal life was very fond of adventure. He was very much interested in bull-fighting, fishing, Base-ball, and other adventures like horse riding. In all of his novels his heroes are interested in the same games too. In A Farwell To Arms Henry is also very fond of adventures. When barman suggested that Henry should accompany him on a fishing trip, he agreed. They went to the lake and getting into a boat, tried to catch fish. Henry is also fond of horse riding. He went to the races in the company of Catherine, Ferguson and Crowell Rodgers. They all pooled one hundred lire and shared the money on the horse “Japalic’. This horse was to pay 35 lire to one. Horse won and Catherine was very happy on this victory.
Hemingway was a man of pleasure seeking. He was much fond of drinking wine so are his all heroes. In A Farewell To Arms, Henry is a great drinker and he continues this habit even in hospital when he was seriously injured.
Hemingway himself has an adventurous life. He spent of his time, in early days, in roaming about in the wood and spent time on bank of the lake for fishing. He hunted fierce beasts African Jungles, participated in both world wars, took part in bull fighting and fishing. So his heroes have all the qualities that he himself had, adventure, thrill and fight. All of his works have touch of his own life, thinking and attitude.
He himself was a courageous man who never loss faith and sense. So his code hero too is a man of courage and ceaseless struggle.
But one thing is very confusing in this respect and it shows that his works are partially autobiographical not fully. Though Hemingway was an adventurous man but he in his personal life committed suicide. He in all of his life loves courage but he himself escaped from life in the form of suicide. But Hemingway’s hero never commits suicide. His hero ‘can be destroyed but never defeated’ But Hemingway was defeated in his personal life so in this respect we can say that this novel is not entirely autobiographical.
According to a critic ‘A Farewell to Arms‘ is neither love nor war story, “it is about state of mind and that state of mind is author’s.” He wrote it after Pauline’s Pregnancy and caesarean birth of his son. Especially this book is out-come of the author’s continuous mishaps and adventures of life.
So in short, we my say that ‘A Farewell To Arms‘ is an autobiographical novel in which many important events of Hemingway’s personal life are portrayed in character of its hero Henry.