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The Sentimental Education Of Frederic Henry (Hemingway’s Other Possible Title)

1414 words - 6 pages

Ernest Hemingway’s protagonist Frederic Henry says A Farewell to Arms with a double meaning. The novel title is word play reflective of first, Frederic’s desertion of the war. His second farewell is to the arms of his beloved, Catherine Barkley after her death in childbirth. Wandering stoically through life, looking for some natural progression, Frederic lets one circumstance lead him to the next. At first, Frederic exhibits the hedonistic aspirations of a college fraternity pledge, motivated only by drinking and sex. His selfish motives take him into a courtship with Catherine and they fall in love. He displays apathy and has no passion or conviction until the accidental attraction. The relationship matures him. It becomes his salvation. It gives his detached life purpose. How and why we fall in love is random, complicated, and unpredictable. No matter how we get there, love is such an important experience that as poet Lord Alfred Tennyson wrote, “Tis better to have loved and lost / than never to have loved at all” (lines 15-16). Frederic begins the story a naïve young man and emerges filled with grief, but matured having experienced a devout and deeper love.
Frederic is an American joined with the Italian forces fighting in World War I. He is a lieutenant assigned to an ambulance unit. His involvement in the war is as a surreal experience. He tells himself that the war is “no more dangerous to me myself than war in a movie” (37). He shows his ignorance saying, “Well, I knew I would not be killed, not in this war, it did not have anything to do with me” (37). Drinking and women are his coping mechanisms. He opts to spend his leave time drinking and with whores, rather than go to the peaceful Abruzi as suggested by the priest. He chooses “the smoke of cafes” (13). He spends his “nights when the room whirled and you needed to look at the wall to make it stop, nights in bed, drunk…” (13).
When Frederic meets Catherine he is still showing detachment to life and has no intention of anything more. Gary Harrington suggests that the affair is a "game" in his analysis of the novel’s word play (64). Frederic knows he doesn’t love her and is playing “a game, like bridge, in which you said things instead of playing cards” (30). Craig Kleinman studies Catherine’s participation of a “yes-no-yes…dialectical bouncing.” Her approach is like a seductive game (54). Yet, Frederic pursues her knowing she is vulnerable from the loss of her long-time boyfriend, a casualty of war. They begin seduction in mutual gain. He wants to gain a “clean” partner to engage in sex with and she wants comfort from her sorrows. He reluctantly goes to see her one night after drinking but she has a headache and can’t see him. He has an epiphany of his feelings towards her then, “but when I could not see her there I was feeling lonely and hollow” (41). The affair becomes serious when Frederic is wounded at the front and sent to the hospital in Milan. ...

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