Hemingway: Celebration of Manhood in “A Farewell to Arms”, by Alejandra de Picciotto, from Buenos Aires, Argentina
Hemingway usually celebrates a specific type of manhood in his novels, and “A Farewell to Arms”, published in 1929 and set in 1916-1918, in Italy and Switzerland, in the middle of World War I, is no exception, depicting as the ideal a very masculine, competent, sexual and rather chauvinistic kind of man, for whom friendship, order, self-assurance and commitment to relationships is important. On this basis, the aim of this essay is to analyse the type of man celebrated in the above-mentioned novel and the way Hemingway achieves that masculine portray.
Frederick Henry, the protagonist, evidently considers solidarity and loyalty to relationships important. This is exemplified by his performance in the war as a lieutenant, ambulance driver and helper, who assists people in the war front. His friendship with Rinaldi is also valuable to him, one of the shelters he has against the grim reality of way, to the point that not even liking for a woman interferes with it, since Rinaldi does not show any resentment to Henry when the former notices that Catherine Barkley – an English nurse working on the front who is liked at first by Rinaldi and eventually becomes Henry’s girlfriend – prefers Henry to him. Henry also displays loyalty and commitment to his relationship with Catherine, thanks to which he also shows the great love he is able to give in the context of a violent world where certainties and beliefs are shattered, and which also represents a way for him to isolate himself and escape from the awful and cruel experiences he has to endure. Henry also, and conversely, proves to be very cruel in his killing of the two engineers who do not want to follow his orders to help their truck get out of the mud in which it had stuck and who escape, thereby showing disloyalty and disobedience to authority, which goes to show Henry’s awareness of the value of order and respect of superiors. This is illustrated in the following passage:
Ernest Hemingway's classic novel, A Farewell to Arms, is one of the greatest love and war stories of all time. The success and authenticity of this tale is a direct result of Hemingway's World War I involvement. The main character, Frederick Henry, encounters many of the same things as did Hemingway and creates a parallel between the author and character. Ernest Hemingway was born in Oak Park, ...
” ‘Halt,’ I said. They kept on down the muddy road, the hedge on either side. ‘I order you to halt,’ I called. They went a little faster. I opened up my holster, took the pistol, aimed at the one who had talked the most and fired. I missed and they both started to run. I shot three times and dropped one. The other went through the hedge and was out of sight. The pistol clicked empty and I put in another clip […] I commenced to reload the empty clip. Bonello came up.
‘Let me go finish him,’ he said. I handed him the pistol and he walked down to where the sergeant of engineers lay face down across the road. Bonello leaned over, put the pistol against the man’s head and pulled the trigger. The pistol did not fire.
‘You have to cock it,’ I said. He cocked it and fired twice. ” (1)
As can also be seen in the passage, both Bonello and Henry display a very confident behaviour in this violent action, which, it may be noted, is validated by the consent that the other officers present tacitly give to it, and which, seen in the context of a ravaged world by war, seems to even be acceptable within the male code.
Rinaldi is another character who is portrayed as overly sexed, masculine and chauvinistic. His treatment of women and his dealings with the prostitutes of the front’s whorehouse to which he often goes come hand in hand with his bold voicing of his sexual appetite, his intensive erotic desire and the way he wants to fulfill it, and the jokes he (along with other soldiers and officers) makes to the priest who is not interested in sex. The fact that he likes almost any woman also proves his conception of women as only the means to satisfy men’s bodily needs, which, it is worthy of mention, also serves in the novel as one of the many types of shelters against the outrageous reality.
These notes were first read at the Hartwick Women Writers’ Workshop, founded and directed by Beverly Tanenhaus, at Hartwick College, Oneonta, New York in June 1975. They were published as a pamphlet by Motheroot Press in Pittsburgh, 1977; in Heresies: A Feminist Magazine of Art and Politics, vol. 1, no. 1; and in a French translation by the Québecois feminist press, Les Editions du Remue-Mé ...
In this respect, the jokes directed to the priest by many soldiers regarding his lack of sexual interest also serve as evidence of all the male soldiers’ regard of what masculinity is and the way it is connected to sex. This is implied in the following lines:
” ‘Priest to-day with girls,’ the captain said looking at the priest and at me. The priest smiled and blushed and shook his head. The captain baited him often.
‘Not true?’ asked the captain. ‘To-day I see priest with girls.’
‘No,’ said the priest. The other officers were amused at the baiting.
‘Priest not with girls,’ went on the captain. ‘Priest never with girls,’ he explained to me […]
‘Priest every night five against one.’ Every one at the table laughed. ‘You understand? Priest every night five against one.’ He made a gesture and laughed loudly. The priest accepted it as a joke. ” (2)
The fact that Catherine Barkley is implied to consider it as her duty to always make Henry happy also demonstrates the role that a woman feels that she has in a relationship, the one (she feels) that a man has, and a woman’s view of her abilities to assume her role.
A character that mostly represents the competent and confident masculine ideal in the novel is Dr. Valentini, who agrees to operate on Henry’s knee the day after they meet, in sharp contrast to the thin and “delicate” doctor who first examines Henry and who needs his colleagues’ opinion to decide on when to operate and state that it would be better to do it in six months. The powerful and virile figure of Dr. Valentini, who chats with Henry about women while drinking wine, put in sharp contrast to the other doctors who appear as insecure, fragile and disturbed by the war, testifies the kind of ideal masculine personality advocated by Hemingway in the novel.
Finally, Henry’s escape from the front and his “separate peace” with the war, represent, on the other hand, his commitment to Catherine and loyalty to their relationship. This attitude of his is precisely his farewell to arms which gives the novel its title.
A Farewell to Arms is about Frederick Henry, an American second lieutenant in the Italian army who falls in love with an English volunteer nurse named Catherine Barkley during the first World War. After Henry is wounded, he is sent the hospital where Catherine is stationed. This where their love affair begins. After healing, Henry returns to the war effort, only to later desert the Italian army. ...
In conclusion, it has been demonstrated that “A Farewell to Arms” celebrates a very virile, confident and intelligent type of man, for whom commitment and loyalty to relationships, friendship, order and the fulfillment of sexual appetites are important. This is achieved by the way Ernest Hemingway portrays each male character, their relationships with one another and with women, their opinions, the way they voice them, the situations to which they are put, the experiences they live, and the contrasts established among them, since some of them represent others’ counterparts in some respects; all of which has helped to earn this well-known talented writer his well-deserved fame.
(1) Ernest Hemingway, “A Farewell to Arms”, Book III, Ch. 29, p. 182, Arrow Books, The Random House Group Limited, London, 2004.
(2) “A Farewell to Arms”, Book I, Ch. 2, p. 7.
* Ernest Hemingway, “A Farewell to Arms”, Arrow Books, The Random House Group Limited, London, 2004.
Author of this literature essay: Alejandra de Picciotto.