Natural Symbolism in A Farewell to Arms
As with many other authors of fictional novels, Ernest Hemingway was often noted for his use of symbolism in his numerous pieces of literature. Natural symbolism plays a significant role in Hemingway’s novel, A Farewell to Arms. This novel uses aspects of nature to structure the plot and provide symbols that replace human emotions.
Nature serves as a source of symbols which replace human sentiment or feelings, making the situation seem somewhat less serious. For example, when characters die, there is no mention of pain or suffering, rather it is simply stated that it is raining, or it is autumn. Substituting emotions with symbols of nature allows Hemingway to describe to the reader in a less informing manner what is actually taking place in the plot. He sometimes also uses symbols to completely omit references to attitudes and reactions towards situations. Ironically, these symbols sometimes represent the opposite of what their traditional meaning would be.
‘The storyline and character traits of this novel are largely affected by Hemingway’s use of symbolism.’ (Bender 55) This is established from the very first chapter, which discusses the rapid progression of the seasons from summer into autumn. Summer is signified by dryness and prosperity. This can be contrasted to autumn, which is identified with ill-fated occurrences and darkness. ‘...And in the fall when the rain came the leaves fell from the chestnut trees and the branches were bare and the trunks black with rain.’ (Hemingway 4) This changing of seasons is a minor transition related to symbolism, which sets the pace for the larger transitions of the novel as a whole. For example, the first few chapters of the book occur in relative dryness until Catherine informs Henry that she is pregnant with their child. Almost immediately upon telling him this news, the rains begin and the dry portion of the story has come to an end. ‘It turned cold that night and the next day it was raining.’ (Hemingway 142) This statement thus serves as the separation of the two segments of the novel, the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’, just the same as the first chapter is divided into summer and fall.
This separation of the seasons sets up the transition in the plot from good to bad: good being represented by the dry season, bad by the wet season. Therefore, the opening scene which is described as being ‘dry and white’ (Hemingway 3) changes drastically by the end of the story, where the river has turned into a raging torrent. This contrast of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ is also displayed by the events which occur on hard versus soft surfaces. For example, the first military operation is rapidly paced, with the wounded being rushed away in ambulances, and everything from the roads to the operating tables are described as being ‘hard.’ This is the opposite of the second military action, a defeat, that occurs on wet roads, with vehicles...