Ernest Hemingway has always been a very popular writer among readers in the last part of 20th century not only because of his novels but also because of his life. It’s commonly known that most of his writings present real life experiences from Hemingway’s past and I have chosen 2 of his most representative ones: A Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bells Toll. Both novels focus on physical and psychological impact of war on soldiers and on their loved ones as well. I chose these novels as they had a great impact on my passion for History and World War I and how it was perceived not only by historians but also by writers of that time. Hemingway’s perception, presentation and characters are alive, very much active and the visual images he creates in his novels had a great impact on myself. I later on found out that he himself was a soldier and his life experience is very much present in his writings.
Hemingway is one of the writers considered part of the “lost generation.” The term “lost generation” is generally applied to those who had actively participated in the First World War and because of this they had realised that life was meaningless. The importance of the First World War in the dethronement of moral and religious values cannot be over emphasised. Those who had gone to the War had fallen into the impression that war was an occasion to seek glory and assert one’s manhood.
Lost Generation, in general, was the post-World War I generation, but specifically a group of U.S. writers who came of age during the war and established their literary reputations in the 1920s. The term stems from a remark made by Gertrude Stein to Ernest Hemingway, “You are all a lost generation.” Hemingway used it as an epigraph to The Sun Also Rises (1926), a novel that captures the attitudes of a hard drinking, fast living set of disillusioned young expatriates in post war Paris.
The generation was “lost” in the sense that its inherited values were no longer relevant in the post war world and because of its spiritual alienation from a U.S. that, basking under Pres. Warren G. Harding’s “back to normalcy” policy, seemed to its members to be hopelessly provincial, materialistic, and emotionally barren. The term embraces Hemingway, F.Scott Fitzgerald, John Dos Passos, E.E. Cummings, Archibald MacLeish, Hart Crane, and many other writers who made Paris the centre of their literary activities in the ’20s. They were never a literary school. In the 1930s, as these writers turned in different directions, their works lost the distinctive stamp of the post war period.
It was the First War in which machine had played a very important role, more important than the men who were fighting the war. The unprecedented hatred of man shook their faith in the goodness of man and even the fact of their manhood. It was the first time that soldiers and generals alike had come to realise that they were helpless in the hands of the destructive weapons that they were using. The machines had become their masters instead of being their slaves. As a result of the domination of the machine over men, men had felt that they were extremely helpless, they were victims of a vast conspiracy in which machines and gods had conspired to strangle the individual’s freedom. They had moved from one trench to another in order to save their lives and when they were killed, they were killed by accident and they did not have any chance what so ever to show their courage or bravery which war is usually supposed to bring out in man.
In other words, it describes the disillusioned young men who survived World War I. It defines the loss of morality and the aimlessness in the lives of soldiers, their feelings at the time. The War destroyed their idea that if you were good, good things would come your way. But for many men who went to the war and experienced death, they returned physically and mentally damaged. The faith that had once given them hope and helped them before had been destroyed by the countless number of deaths.
The novels written during the post war period showed these feelings. Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms is clear evidence of these new beliefs. Hemmingway explains all the feelings that soldiers of his time felt during and after the war. In A Farewell to Arms Hemingway uses painful experiences of his own life and places them in the novel. The main character of the novel Henry is based on himself and his personal experiences. His personal pain enables him to describe him and his feeling to a great amount of detail. The characters’ views of the world change with war just as Hemmingway’s did. But Henry’s pain is greater than the physically pain he experiences. In Hemmingway’s writing there is always an emotional pain of a past love. Mentally Hemmingway was damaged by a past love. While he was recovering from his wounds, Hemingway fell for a woman by the name of Hannah Agnes von Kurowsky. She was older than him and not very interested in him. They dated but Hemingway had the idea of marrying her. Agnes had another idea. The dating never went farther than a date. So they ended things and parted their own ways. But this caused him a great pain that led him to alienation and to make all his work including A Farewell To Arms to have a tragic end when it comes to love.
War is a terrible event that can have a drastic effect on the soldiers who take part in it. It can destroy their lives and families, but it can also destroy the emotions of innocent civilians. In his novel A Farewell to Arms Ernest Hemingway exhibits this destruction with the theme of love as a response to the horrors of war and the world.
As a lost generation writer, Hemingway, like many others, wrote about World War I. The story takes place during the war where an American ambulance driver is in an Italian front. This American, Frederick Henry, later slowly falls in love with an English volunteer nurse, Catherine Barkley. In Hemingway’s novels, the female characters he writes about are described as women who act in the service of men rather than in their own desires. The women that he describes are more like most women of that time, where it is considered a more traditional role.
However, in A Farewell to Arms, Catherine seems to be a more liberal character who has escaped from the traditional roles of women. Catherine does not suppress her own needs to care for Frederick; neither does she mask her own individuality. Catherine is not affluence by the ambiance around her showing her independence and her strives for her dreams display her ambitious needs, however, she does present some submissive behaviour. Catherine has her own independent personality with an identity of her own. She has more liberal views towards traditional matters. When she and Frederick were in love with each other, Frederick suggests that they should get married. Catherine did not believe that being wedded in a church is necessary for their relationship. Catherine felt that standing before a priest would not hold their union together. She saw doing rituals of any sorts are just empty forms performed, she did not see it having any real effect. Similar to not getting married, Catherine did not see baptizing a child as any useful form.
In this case it was Frederick who brings it up again. Catherine’s refusal to adapt religious ceremonies in her life show that she does not do as Frederick pleases. Indeed, whenever Henry and Catherine are blissful, something comes along to interrupt it, whether it’s Henry’s injury, his being sent back to the front, his impending arrest, or finally, Catherine’s death from childbirth.
Human life was completely devalued in this mechanised war that Hemingway seems to be groping for new gods is apparent from not only the early works but also from the later works. One of the new gods that Hemingway seemed to have accepted was the discipline that a writer must exercise in his writings. He must be true to his talent and in which the reader should experience by himself what the writer has described. Life is sad, tragic, and there is no escape from pain. If this be so, it is useless to try to escape from the inevitable. Therefore, what one can do is to be a man. When man is afflicted with misery, pain or sorrow, or even death, the way to face it is to remain calm, be true to oneself and one’s companions, endure pain as best as one can and to fight as brave as you can. To give up a fight would be unmanly. The undefeated must remain morally victorious even though he has nothing to win. That the winner takes nothing is the core of Hemingway’s philosophy and the code is an attempt to face up to this truth and this is the only reward that man can take with him from this world. There is also another underlying assumption in Hemingway’s philosophy: there is no world beyond the grave. Therefore, one’s victories and losses are to be measured in terms of this world and not in the world beyond the grave. So there is a constant stress on the enjoyment of the good things of this world.