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A Farewell to Arms | Study Guide

Ernest Hemingway

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A Farewell to Arms | 10 Things You Didn't Know


A Farewell to Arms is an impassioned condemnation of war. It was written soon after Ernest Hemingway's own terrible experiences in World War I, and it clearly illustrates both the mind-numbingly mundane aspects of the war and the devastating effect of that conflict on individuals and society.

Hemingway's minimalistic style of writing deviated from that of other authors of the time. His compressed reporter's prose was so different from the descriptive, flowery style of the Victorian writers who came before him that he is considered by many to be the "high priest of modernism." He ushered in a new kind of writing that had an enormous effect on modern writers, such as Jack Kerouac, J.D. Salinger, and Hunter S. Thompson.

1. F. Scott Fitzgerald said some not-so-nice things about A Farewell to Arms.

After reading the manuscript of A Farewell to Arms, Fitzgerald sent Hemingway a letter with suggestions for changes he felt the novel needed. These included descriptions of scenes as "slow + needs cutting," "definitely dull," and "The scene as it is seems to me a shame." Although they were close friends, Fitzgerald worried Hemingway would never forgive him. In the end, their friendship turned to jealous rivalry.

2. Hemingway wrote 47 different endings to the novel.

It took Hemingway a very long time to settle on the ending of A Farewell to Arms. Alternate endings include "That is all there is to the story. Catherine died and you will die and I will die and that is all I can promise you" and "There is no end except death and birth is the only beginning." When asked the reason for all the different endings, Hemingway replied, "Getting the words right."

3. Five years went by in the novel before Frederic Henry tells his story.

A literary analyst used historical evidence to figure out how much time elapsed between the death of Catherine, the nurse's aide who falls for Frederic, and the narration. The analyst determined five years based on the name of the horse, Light for Me, at the racetrack and a reference to Babe Ruth in the novel.

4. A piece of shrapnel extracted from Hemingway is on display in Boston.

Hemingway kept a piece of shrapnel from the battlefield of Caporetto, where he was wounded by 227 pieces of an exploding Austrian trench mortar. The battlefield is one of the settings of A Farewell to Arms. That shrapnel can now be seen in the Hemingway Room at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. The room also includes an antelope head and a lion-skin rug. The mounted antelope head was a souvenir from a safari, and the rug is the skin of the lion killed by Patrick, Hemingway's son.

5. A Farewell to Arms was burned by the Nazis.

The June 1929 issue of Scribner's Magazine was banned in Boston after publishing installments of the novel and offending readers with the "salacious" material. Italy banned the novel that same year due to its account of the war. A decade later, it was banned in Ireland because of language and references to sex. The Nazis burned the novel in 1933; they didn't care for Hemingway's negative portrayal of war. The book continued to face challenges into the 21st century.

6. Hemingway only settled on the title after the novel was finished.

The author considered several alternate titles, including Love in War, World Enough and Time, Every Night and All, and Of Wounds and Other Causes. The title he finally chose is from a 16th-century poem by George Peele, written for Queen Elizabeth I.

7. A Farewell to Arms has been adapted many times, and one project is lost.

The novel has been adapted for stage and film, as well as broadcast for radio. Two television miniseries were made, but only the 1966 version survived. The one titled Climax! (1955), directed by Gore Vidal, is lost.

8. Hemingway hated the first film of his novel even though he didn't see it.

Hemingway was living in Piggott, Arkansas, when the 1932 film version of A Farewell to Arms came out, starring Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes. Paramount Pictures offered to arrange a private screening for Hemingway. However, he wrote to the producers: "Use your imagination as to where to put the print, but do not send it here."

9. Hemingway compared his writing style to an iceberg.

The Iceberg Theory is a writing style in which the author provides the basic facts. The tip of the iceberg represents these facts. Everything else about the story that remains unsaid is below the surface of the water. Hemingway believed sparse writing, void of adjectives and lengthy descriptions, gave depth to a story by means of adding more mystery below the surface. About his principle of writing, Hemingway said, "Anything you know you can eliminate and it only strengthens your iceberg."

10. In Silver Linings Playbook, Bradley Cooper's character throws the novel out a window.

In the popular 2012 movie, the main character, Pat Solitano, is played by Bradley Cooper. In an effort to better connect with his estranged wife, an English teacher, Pat decides to read A Farewell to Arms, one of the titles on her class reading list. However, he finds the story's ending too sad and throws the book out the window.

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