Natural Symbolism,Death And Language Essay

2451 words - 10 pages

Ernest Hemingway's novel A Farewell to Arms (1929) uses nature to structure the novel and provide symbols that replace human emotions. Nature serves as a basic structure for the plot and the actions that occur. It also emerges as a source of symbols that replace human sentiment or feelings. Characters die and there is no mention of sadness or pain. Instead, Hemingway writes that it is raining, that it is autumn, or that peace has occurred when people are still at war. The replacement of emotions with symbols allows Hemingway to frequently understate what is really going on in the action. He further uses symbols to completely omit references to sentiments or feelings. Even more unsettling is the fact that these symbols often ironically represent the opposite of their meanings in common parlance. Not only symbols, but also individual words, come to be used in this way. This undermines the use of technical language throughout the novel and causes the breakdown of that language. Thus, symbols and words provide a basis for the structure of the novel and for the loss of the technical language.

The structure of the novel occurs largely through natural symbolism, i.e. symbols drawn from nature. This is set up in the first chapter, which shows the rapid progression of the seasons from summer into autumn. Summer is identified with dryness and abundance, a plain "rich with crops" (3). This is immediately contrasted with autumn, where "the branches were bare and the trunks black with rain" (4). This miniature transition of the seasons relates to the larger transitions in the novel as a whole. For example, the first part of the novel takes place in relative dryness up until when Catherine informs Henry that she is going to have a baby. No sooner has she told him this news than the rains start, ending the dry part of the novel: "It turned cold that night and the next day it was raining" (142). Thus the novel is separated into two segments in the same manner that the first chapter is separated into summer and fall.

This separation of the seasons helps to set up the transition in the plot from good to bad. "Good" is represented by the dry season, "bad" by the wet season. Thus, the opening scenes describe the bed of the river as being "dry and white" (3), an image that changes drastically by the end, where the river has turned into a raging torrent. This contrast is explicated by the events that occur on hard versus soft surfaces. For instance, the first military operation (in which Henry is wounded) is fast paced, with the wounded are rushed away in trucks, and everything is described as being hard, including the road and operating table. This contrasts with the second military operation, a defeat, that takes place on wet roads, with vehicles stuck in the mud, and where rivers have to be crossed instead of river beds. Thus the world of the first half of the novel is a dry, sterile version of the wet and sickly world that follows it. Within this world, the dry...

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