A Farewell to Arms (1929)

Sarah Aburumuh on “Been There, Done That: Remembering Hemingway’s Memories”

​It is one thing to experience war and one thing to write about it. Hemingway does both. “In the early days writing in Paris I would invent not only from my own experience but from the experiences and knowledge from my friends…” (A Moveable Feast, 181). Even though he admits the experiences he writes so realistically and movingly about are not all his, they are essential memoirs of his life at war which are best represented in A Farewell to Arms. Main character Frederic Henry signs up for an ambulance driver position on the Italian front and is severely wounded by mortar shell. He then falls into a tragic love with his nurse Catherine. As their love progresses, tensions increase on the front, and the Austrians and Germans pose a greater threat, breaking into Italy’s borders. The Italian military cracks down on soldiers during the retreat and Frederic finds himself escaping the military. The novel “concludes” with the loss of his wife and son, and the memories of Italy he cannot forget and never fully reveal to readers.

One reads A Farewell to Arms and can clearly understand that Frederic Henry is in essence, Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway would like us to believe that there is more to his work, and there is, following his iceberg principle. However Hemingway slips his views of the war quite blatantly: “I believe that all people who stand to profit by a war and who help provoke it should be shot on the first day it starts by accredited representatives of the loyal citizens of their country who will fight it” (A Farewell to Arms, 4). It was easier for an expatriate to express antiwar sentiment outside of their home country, for they would not been seen (in Italy or Paris) as anti-American, but rather other seemingly insulting adjectives by the host country’s native citizens. The expatriate identity is malleable in that wherever they go, their identity can be anything but American.

Expatriate works serve as vessels for memory and time. Each writer writes at their own discretion their memories and experiences, that of others, or none of the above. It is in this ability to control and create experience that these authors offer in their works, even if we deem the text immoral for doing so. Hemingway answers our question of whether it matters to have witnessed an event in order to write about it in his chapter of A Moveable Feast titled: “On Writing in the First Person.” “If the stories are made so real that people believe them, the people reading them nearly think the stories really happened…if you can do this you are beginning to get what you are trying for…to make something that will become a part of the readers experience and a part of his memory” (181). Hemingway brought Paris to us in A Moveable Feast, and in this text, he has brought us the atrocities and drama of war.

In an introduction by Sean Hemingway for A Farewell to Arms, he says “Hemingway based his account to his own experience there (in Italy) since his description is so realistic. In fact, Hemingway did not come to Italy until long after the retreat in June 1918” (15). He did not experience the war in its entirety, yet we believe he did and value this work because it is an embodiment of a time, space, and place that we as Americans may not ever experience or understand.


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