Farewell To Arms: Religion Essay

1997 words - 8 pages

Religion in "A Farewell to Arms"
     For hundreds of years, writers have used religion as a principle issue and point of discussion in their novels. Hawthorne expressed his views in The Scarlet Letter, Garcia Marquez did the same in One Hundred Years of Solitude and in other writings, and even Ernest Hemingway used his writing to develop his own ideas concerning the church. This is fully evident in his novel A Farewell to Arms. Even in a book in which the large majority of the characters profess their atheism, the ideas of the church materialize repeatedly as both characters and as topics of conversations. Religion is presented through reflections of the protagonist "Lieutenant Henry," and through a series of encounters involving Henry and a character simply identified as "the priest." Hemingway uses the treatment of the priest by the soldiers and by Henry himself to illustrate two ways of approaching religion in a situation in which God has no place, and employs these encounters between the priest and other characters as a means of expressing religious views of his own.
Most evident to the reader is the strict difference between the priest's relationship with Henry and that which he has with the other soldiers. Hemingway repeatedly emphasizes this in all sections of the book, even after Henry is injured, when he is completely isolated from the other soldiers. The first instance the reader sees of this is only six pages into the novel. Hemingway writes, "That night in the mess after the spaghetti course . . . the captain commenced picking on the priest" (6-7). Hemingway's diction is suggestive: "commenced" signifies not only that the soldiers began to pick on the priest, but that ridiculing the priest was their main activity prior to dinner as well as after. Almost the same scenario is portrayed only a few pages later: "the meal was finished, and the argument went on. We two stopped talking and the captain shouted, 'Priest not happy. Priest not happy without girls.'" (14). The soldiers' ridicule of the priest is again highlighted when Henry, bed-stricken with his injury, asks the priest "How is the mess?" (69). The priest replies "I am still a great joke" (69). The reader sees an obvious pattern in the relationship between the priest and the others. More important, though, than the fact that the other soldiers ridicule the priest, is for what he is ridiculed. For one, they question his intelligence, with one soldier proclaiming that "all thinking men are atheists" (8). His religious celibacy also becomes an easy target:

           'Today I see priest with girls.'
           'No,' said the priest. The other officers were amused at
          the baiting....

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