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A Farewell To Arms: Structure, Characters, And Significance

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Table of contents

  1. Form, Structure, and Plot
  2. Point of View
  3. Character
  4. Diction
  5. Significance of Title

Ernest Miller Hemingway, born July 21, 1899 and died July 2, 1961, was recognized as a very prominent novelist throughout his life. Hemingway based his novel, A Farewell to Arms, on personal life experiences he encountered when he was involved in World War l. Hemingway came from a very competent background as the son of a doctor, Clarence Edmond Hemingway, and a talented but unsuccessful singer, Grace Hall Hemingway (Young). As a child, Hemingway undertook many different hobbies including playing musical instruments, hunting, fishing, and highschool sports but he eventually stumbled upon writing and fell in love with it (McGovern). In school, he exceeded in writing for it was his strongest subject. This is one of several contributing factors to why Hemingway proceeded to work for The Star, a newspaper in Kansas City, Missouri, upon graduating highschool. It was there that Hemingway perfected his writing style. Soon realizing that all of the eligible men around him were leaving for the war going on in Europe, Hemingway tried enlisting for the military. Unfortunately, a defect in his eyesight rendered his acceptance into the war. Hemingway still pursued the war path but as an ambulance driver for the American Field Service instead thanks to the advice of his fellow newspaper reporter, Theodore Brumback. Ernest Hemingway wrote all about the encounters he faced during the war such as getting injured at the Austro-Italian front and falling in love with the nurse who was treating him (“Hemingway’s Short Stories”). These wartime adventures were altered and combined to create one of Hemingway’s most notorious novels, A Farewell to Arms. Ernest Hemingway would go on to win many awards for his striking writing styles and enticing content including the Pulitzer Prize in 1953 for fiction and the Nobel Prize in 1954 for literature (Young). Hemingway proved to be very well-rounded and successful throughout his life. He left a large impact on readers and writers alike and continued to inspire people in literature even after his death.

Form, Structure, and Plot

The text is divided into five books and forty-one total chapters. The book is three hundred thirty-two pages in length. Ernest Hemingway has a specific writing style which he emulates through his use of a mixture of techniques. The plot itself is fairly simple and easily digested. There are some portions of the novel that diverge into side thoughts or emotions, but other than that, A Farewell to Arms simply tells the story of a volunteer ambulance driver who has fallen in love with a war nurse in the midst of the war. The relationship inevitably ends in tragedy when Catherine passed away due to complications during labor and the protagonist, Frederic Henry, is left feeling lost in the world. The general timeline for the text is during World War l, between 1914-1918, so at least four years passed over the span of the book (Bracken). The story is told in past tense, describing the flashbacks Lieutenant Frederic Henry recalled during his time as an ambulance driver for the Italian army in World War l. The very first line of the novel reveals that the events have already occurred and they are just being told in a chronological order in Henry’s point of view. “In the late summer of that year, we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains” (Hemingway 3). The story unfolds as one delves further into the book. Hemingway is also known to use the concept of a stream of consciousness in his works in which a person’s inner thoughts are continuously flowing. “-Then there was a flash, as when a blast-furnace door is swung open, and a roar that started white and went red and on and on in a rushing wind. I tried to breathe but my breath would not come and I felt myself rush bodily out of myself and out and out and out and all the time bodily in the wind. I went out swiftly, all of myself, and I knew I was dead and that it had all been a mistake to think you just died. Then I floated, and instead of going on I felt myself slide back. I breathed and I was back […] I tried to move but I could not move” (Hemingway 54). This quote reveals Henry’s live thoughts and hysterical state of mind during the time of the incident considering that neither Henry nor the readers are fully aware of what is going on. This feature strengthens Hemingway’s book as it adds depth into the emotions and thoughts of the characters. Ernest Hemingway is also well known for foreshadowing events in his novels. As Catherine was lying on her deathbed after giving birth, Henry was pleading for her safety. “Don’t let her die. Oh, God, please don’t let her die. I’ll do anything for you if you won’t let her die. Please, please, please, dear God, don’t let her die […] You took the baby but don’t let her die […] You’re all right, Cat […] You’re going to be alright” (Hemingway 330). Henry’s intense praying to keep Catherine alive foreshadows that something tragic will actually result from the complications instead of a pleasant outcome like he wishes. This is yet another feature that strengthens Hemingway’s writing. In the beginning of the novel, Frederic Henry is eager to get a piece of the action whenever he can. Henry explains how slowly the war was proceeding and he lists some of the places he visited on his leave when the war was down. During the beginning of the text, it is clear that Henry is new to many of the things that are occuring. He gets a little too close to the action and badly injures himself in doing so. Henry meets and falls in love with war nurse, Catherine Barkley, and the two proceed to meet as often as they can over the span of the war. The beginning of the text sounds like the average romantic comedy and the encounters are fairly expected. Towards the end, the novel becomes slightly less predictable. Henry becomes very accustomed to the fatalities of war and he matures a lot from his experiences. He and Catherine are expecting a baby boy but complications with the pregnancy makes them lose not only the baby but Catherine as well. Henry loses a lot more than just those he loves, Henry loses his sense of duty. He chooses to part ways with the Italian army which shows just how much true love affects a person. In the beginning, the reader would never have predicted such an eager boy, ready to take on the world, choose to desert something as important as his duty (Bracken). He becomes a lot less patriotic after suffering such a gut-wrenching loss.The end of the novel is a realistic view on life without all of the sugarcoating, ending the reader off with the notion that if true love could alter a person’s view on duty, it can move mountains. Hemingway does this on purpose to strengthen his theme on love and war.

Point of View

One of the notable features in Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms is the shifting of point of view from first to second person narration throughout the book. Hemingway writes a large chunk of the novel in first person point of view in which the narrator and protagonist, Lieutenant Frederic Henry, reminisces on what life was like as an American ambulance driver part of the Italian army during World War l. Lieutenant Henry describes events that have already occurred therefore this novel is considered to be told in the past tense. Readers grow accustomed to this perspective but it shifts partway through the book. Second person perspective is introduced in book three, chapter thirty-two. Instead of using the pronoun “I”, Hemingway uses “you”. “You were out of it now. You had no more obligation” (Hemingway 232). The change of pronouns used is a clear indication that point of view has now shifted showing that the narrator is thinking out loud. Narration or perspective shifts are very important because they can alter the entire experience a reader will have while reading the book. Ernest Hemingway is able to smoothly transfer perspectives back and forth, making his writing very clear and concise.


A Farewell to Arms introduces a multiplitude of different characters throughout the book. It consists of a variety of complex, dynamic, static, flat or round characters. The novel contains around thirty minor characters, not including Catherine and Henry, and a majority of them can be described as flat or static characters because they do not change a lot. The minor characters are still very important to the character development of the main characters because they contribute advice and warnings to the main characters. Some of the minor characters, such as the priest, proved to be flat because his patient personality and kindness towards Henry remained constant throughout the novel. Henry felt like he could confide in the priest because he was always reliable and honest towards Henry. Catherine Barkley was a static character in the novel because she also remained relatively the same in the sense that she was always overly cautious and anxious before and after meeting Henry. She had to constantly get reassurance that he loved her because she was naturally always worried. One complex character in the novel was Catherine’s friend, Helen Ferguson. With Catherine, Ferguson was very caring and concerned. With Henry, however; Ferguson was tougher and showed less compassion because she was worried that Henry was bad for her friend. Helen Furguson displayed a variety of different traits. Hemingway’s protagonist, Lieutenant Frederic Henry, majorly developed as a character. Henry can be described as a dynamic character because his personality changes the most. Though his age is not revealed, one can assume that Henry is in his twenties because not only is he eligible for enlisting into the war, but he easily heals from his injury, indicating that he is young. The readers are also left with interpreting Henry’s physical appearance on their own because Hemingway does not give a clear description. In a nutshell, Henry can be described as courageous, selfless, and loving. Henry went through a personality shift in that he becomes more emotional and sentimental rather than drinking and . He always remained modest.

Henry’s attitude on life shifted from enjoying the action and independence war provided to choosing to devote his time to be with Catherine. Henry fluctuates a lot over the span of the novel after having met Catherine because she ignites his emotional side. Henry serves as a reminder to the readers that loneliness is sometimes a choice. Once Henry found Catherine, he realized all of the great feelings he was missing out on, including love, warmth and stability. “We knew the baby was very close now and it (311)


Ernest Hemingway is able to make his writing come to life with the types of words he chooses. This novel of his is very special because it involves a mixture of different types of diction. It can go from being formal one minute to colloquial the next, depending on who is doing the talking. For example, in the midst of the action, Henry’s fellow driver Passini becomes injured and he starts screaming mercilessly. “Oh Mama Mia, Mama Mia! Dio te salve, Maria!” (Hemingway 55). This speech is considered colloquial for it is regional and informal. The shift in diction is clear as one starts reading the following paragraph in which Frederic tries to save his friend but realizes it is hopeless. “I unwound the puttee and while I was doing so I saw there was no need to try and make a tourniquet because he was dead already,” (Hemingway 55). Compared to the first quote, this one is free of colloquialism and uses higher vocabulary, indicating more formal diction. Another large distinction in the diction is found in the way Henry speaks when he is talking about the army versus when he is alone with Catherine. When describing things relating to the army, Henry uses very specific and descriptive vocabulary. “My Austrian sniper’s rifle with its blued octagon barrel and the lovely dark walnut, cheek fitted schuetzen stock hung over the two beds” (Hemingway 11). When comparing this speech to a time where he is speaking to Catherine, a large difference is noted. “I’ll love you in the rain and in the snow and in the hail and– what else is there? […] Go to sleep darling, and I’ll love you no matter how it is,” (Hemingway 126). The diction in this sense is much more personal and all around emotional. The author relies heavily on the use of imagery to help readers picture whichever action packed scenes it is that they are reading. “…Then came the chuh-chuh-chuh-chuh– then there was a flash, as when a blast-furnace door is swung open, and a roar that started white and went red and on and on in a rushing wind,” (Hemingway 54). The imagery provides the reader with the sense that the action is occurring in front of their own eyes. The diction in this novel indicates social status as well as region. In a dialogue amongst several men and their singing abilities, regional diction is evident. “You’re just a wop from Frisco,” says one of the men (Hemingway 120). A “wop” is “used as an insulting and contemptuous term for a person of Italian birth or descent” (Merriam-Webster). The diction shows that the conversation is happening amongst a group Italians or possibly in Italy itself. This word choice also refers to social status since the term is being used to belittle one of the singers, noting his decent. Hemingway’s written language is far from plain. His use of metaphors 126=rain 178 and 48=dialogue

Much of the story consists of conversations had by characters. Hemingway formats dialogues to be very concise. The conversations consist of many short sentences combined to form between half a page to an entire page of dialogue. The narrative dialogue of Frederic Henry usually drags on because he is sometimes narrating for long periods of time. This differs greatly from character to character dialogue because that usually consists of short bursts of sentences, packed with a lot of information. Sometimes the characters start arguing and that tension is evident through the use of exclamation and reiteration. Dialogue in the narrative voice is much calmer since the narrator has no one to argue with. A dialogue found in book five, chapter forty-one, is occurring between Catherine and Henry as Catherine is taking her final breaths:

“You’re all right, Cat […] You’re going to be all right.”

“‘I’m going to die […] I hate it.’ I took her hand”

“Do you want me to get a priest or any one to come and see you?”

“‘Just you,’ she said […] ‘I’m not afraid. I just hate it.’ […] ‘You won’t do our things with another girl, or say the same things, will you?’”


“I want you to have girls though.”

“I don’t want them”

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“‘[…] Don’t worry, darling,’ Catherine said. ‘I’m not a bit afraid. It’s just a dirty trick.”

“You dear, brave sweet.” (Hemingway 330-331)

This passage helps a reader dissect some of the characters, tone, and part of the story’s theme. The theme of love requiring courage is very evident from this excerpt because both Henry and Catherine had to be brave for one another. Catherine had to let Henry go and vice versa. This relays a very somber and tragic tone to the text as a whole. Both characters show bravery in the face of adversity. This next passage is from book one, chapter nine, in which an injured Frederic Henry is being treated after getting badly injured:

“Are you hit badly?”

“In the legs.”

“It’s not serious I hope. Will you have a cigarette?[…] They tell me you’ve lost two drivers.”

“Yes. One killed and the fellow that brought you.”

“What rotten luck. Would you like us to take the cars?”

“That’s what I wanted to ask you.”

“We’d […] return them to the villa. 206 aren’t you?”


“It’s a charming place. I’ve seen you about. They tell me you’re American.” (Hemingway 57)

The diction presented in this passage shows formality and hints that the man Henry is speaking with may be English. Words such as “rotten” and the formatting of his questions show that the doctor may be from England. This English doctor seems very polite based on the way he is asking Henry all those questions. Henry’s character is also revealed because this passage shows how patient he is. Even though his leg just got blown up, Henry is still calmly answering the doctor’s questions, not making a great deal out of it. As readers will find out later, patience is only one of many great parts about Frederic Henry’s character. This passage also impacts the theme and tone. Henry’s selflessness and courage is shown in this dialogue because it shows that he made sure to check on his other drivers before being attended to. Otherwise, he would not have known the answer to the doctor’s question about the well being of Henry’s drivers. A tone of gloom and tragedy is set from this passage because not only has Henry just lost two of his drivers, but his own wounds are looking very alarming. With the help of diction, indicating tone and theme has become much simpler.

Significance of Title

Book titles can have a large impact on how readers construe a work of literature. Readers have interpreted the title, A Farewell to Arms, in several different ways. First off, the word “arms” is a homonym meaning it has multiple different meanings. “Arms” can either mean weaponry or it can stand for the upper limbs of the human body. This makes it so that people can interpret the title in a multitude of ways. For example, some assume that Hemingway borrowed the title from George Peele’s poem “A Farewell to Arms” written in the sixteenth century in which a knight explains to Queen Elizabeth l that his old age no longer makes him suitable to bear arms for her, or in simpler terms, to fight for her (Bracken). Others say that the title refers to Henry’s desertion of the Italian army. In the sense that “arms” means weaponry, the title expresses Henry bidding goodbye to the war and weapons. Lastly, some readers understand the title to mean that Henry is simply saying goodbye to the loving arms of his beloved, Catherine, as she departs from the existing world and onto the next (Bracken).

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A Farewell To Arms: Structure, Characters, And Significance. (2021, September 22). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 25, 2023, from
“A Farewell To Arms: Structure, Characters, And Significance.” Edubirdie, 22 Sept. 2021,
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