A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway
Join the PMML Book Club for a discussion of Hemingway's classic World War I novel, A Farewell to Arms—widely regarded among the greatest works of American literature on the subject. Inspired in part by his own experiences as an ambulance driver in Italy during the war, this gripping, semiautobiographical work captures the harsh realities of war and the pain of lovers caught in its inexorable sweep.
As a youth of 18, Ernest Hemingway was eager to fight in the Great War. Poor vision kept him out of the Army, so he joined the ambulance corps instead and was sent to France. Then he transferred to Italy where he became the first American wounded in that country during World War I. Hemingway came out of the European battlefields with a medal for valor and a wealth of experience that he would, 10 years later, spin into literary gold with A Farewell to Arms.
This is the story of Lieutenant Henry, an American, and Catherine Barkley, a British nurse. The two meet in Italy, and almost immediately Hemingway sets up the central tension of the novel: the tenuous nature of love in a time of war. The two begin an affair, with Henry quite convinced that he "did not love Catherine Barkley nor had any idea of loving her. This was a game, like bridge, in which you said things instead of playing cards." Soon enough, however, the game turns serious for both of them and ultimately Henry ends up deserting to be with Catherine.
Hemingway was not known for either unbridled optimism or happy endings, and A Farewell to Arms, like his other novels (For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Sun Also Rises, and To Have and Have Not), offers neither. What it does provide is an unblinking portrayal of men and women behaving with grace under pressure, both physical and psychological, and somehow finding the courage to go on in the face of certain loss. —Alix Wilber, Amazon.com
- How would you describe Hemingway’s writing style?
- What do we know of Frederic Henry's and Catherine Barkley's lives before the novel begins? As the novel's narrator, why would Frederic choose to tell us so little about their past?
- What did you particularly like or dislike about Frederic and Catherine’s characterization?
- In the beginning they openly describe their love as a game, as untrue. Do you think their love becomes real? Why or why not?
- How is World War I depicted? What about this is a universal depiction of war?
- How do you think Hemingway’s experiences serving in WWI influenced this work?
- Frederic discussed war with many different characters from many walks of life. Which one stands out to you? Why?
- After his desertion, Frederic says that, "anger was washed away in the river along with any obligation." Are his actions justified?
- Bravery, injury, healing, and death were all very prevalent in the book. Which of these do you think was the most important theme?
- Would you consider this an important book? Why?
NEA Big Read website. http://www.neabigread.org/books/farewelltoarms/readers-guide/discussion-questions/
Hutchinson, Percy. “Love and War in the Pages of Mr. Hemingway,” The New York Times, September 29, 1929. https://www.nytimes.com/books/99/07/04/specials/hemingway-farewell.html