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The Irrelevant God In Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell To Arms

2854 words - 11 pages

The Irrelevant God in A Farewell to Arms

 
      A Farewell to Arms begins with a god's-eye-view, cinematic pan of the hills surrounding Gorizia-the camera of our mind's eye, racing forward through time, sweeps up and down the landscape, catching isolated events of the first year in the town as it goes. The film ultimately slows to a crawl, passing through the window of a whorehouse to meet the eyes of Frederic Henry watching the snow falling. As we attach ourselves to Frederic Henry's perspective we turn (as he turns) back to the conversation at hand, a theological debate between the priest and Lieutenant Rinaldi. This debate, its dialectic made flesh in these two polar opposites, is a central question of A Farewell to Arms: What is our relationship to God? This is, indeed, the overriding philosophic arc of the novel; A Farewell to Arms can be seen as the synthesizing of these two worldviews into Henry's final relationship with God.

           

Fredrick Henry's silence during this original debate is very telling-it indicates, of course, that he has not yet made up his mind. It would be very easy for him to cast his lot with either Rinaldi and his atheists or the priest, yet he remains silent as they talk-even after comments about an antireligious book called Black Pig are directed at him from both camps. "It is very valuable. It tells you about those priest. You will like it," says Rinaldi. "Don't you read it," responds the priest (8). Henry's only comment in this chapter is his statement that the coming of winter will end the offensive-a comment which is seized upon by the group and used as another bone of contention for the group. The priest wants Henry to go to the Abruzzi: "There is good hunting. You would like the people and though it is cold it is clear and dry. You could stay with my family. My father is a famous hunter" (9). Rinaldi, however, wants him to "go to centers of culture and civilization," where he will have "fine girls" (8). This discussion further frames the debate between Rinaldi and the priest in a mental landscape dominated by two opposing images: the naturalistic landscape of the priest's Abruzzi and the human-filled, civilized cityscape of Rinaldi. When he returns from leave in the next chapter he is extremely apologetic to the priest, repeatedly insisting in his drunkenness "I had wanted to go to the Abruzzi," but "one thing had led to another" and he never made it there (13). A part of Henry wants to go to the Abruzzi, but something-a undeniable desire for a pleasurable life, perhaps-prevents him. Chapter Three ends with a statement of the priest's uselessness in the face of the war's horror: "He can't do anything about it anyway" (14). This statement of the priest's lack of agency in the face of the real world is echoed in the next chapter, which concerns Henry's first meeting with Catherine Barkley. The closeness of these two incidents suggests a necessary comparison between the priest's lofty...

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