War's devastating effects on society is a common theme in literature, movies and television. Our senses are bombarded with the sounds of exploding bombs and firing guns, the sights of dismembered, bloody bodies, and the vast desolate aftermaths of battles. In A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway however, we are forced to see the insidious effects and disillusionments of war in a subtler yet more devastating way - through the personal perceptions and actions of an individual. Samuel Shaw observes,
Hemingway describes war as it appears in the eyes of one participant. All the confusion and formlessness of battle as it is experienced by the individual soldier comes through to the reader. Hemingway offers no panoramic view of the battleground or historical perspective of war (Shaw 55).
The story centers on Frederick Henry, a young American ambulance driver serving in the Italian Army, and Catherine Barkley, an English nurse. The time is World War I when young men have become disillusioned with life and the concepts of honor and bravery. They are learning a hard lesson; a lesson which teaches them the futility of fighting a war where many men can be destroyed with a single blast, and the lives of innocent people can be terminated by an impersonal bomb. All this can happen without your ever honorably facing your opponent. This sets the mood for Hemingway's interpretations of war and how it had forced the "lost generation" to turn to physical pleasures for immediate gratification and to take responsibility for their own fates.
First, a look at the two major characters of the novel will clarify its themes. Frederick Henry is the most important of the two, for it is his journey from a self-centered young man to an existential hero that is the main focus of this novel. In order for Frederick to come to full realization, it is necessary for him to face life's adversities and recognize that he must decide for himself h...