Today, we are going to talk about the representation of war in chapters 7 and 8, in the novel A Farewell to Arms written by Hemingway.
As already mentioned in the previous presentations, war is becoming more and more present in this book, its presence more palpable, but as is typically the case in this book, it’s impossible to know what to expect given that moments of serenity are never very long, and tension generally eases up rather quickly. Here again, the narrator is not really involved in this war, even if the fighting is much closer than before.
At the beginning of chapter 7, on page 31, a sentence draws attention, when the narrator says ‘’the sky was very bright and blue and the road was white and dusty‘’. First, the words ‘’ bright ‘’ and ‘’ blue ‘’ are symbols of happiness and push the reader to imagine that everything is ok. So there is a big contrast between these words and what is actually going on, namely the war. Then there is another contrast between the sky, the soldiers, and the road they are walking. Indeed, the soldiers are described as ‘’ sweating ‘’, ‘’hot’’, and as ‘’dusty” as the road. The dirty road, the soldiers and the war can represent filth and hell, whereas the sky, which is ‘’blue‘’ and ‘’bright‘’, represents purity and heaven. Again, the mix of these antithetic elements makes it difficult to anticipate anything good or anything bad.
Thanks to this description of the sky, the reader is entitled to expect something positive should happen, but in this case, it is … not the case. It is just as if the negative effects of the war were as strong as the positive effects of the pleasant weather. Moreover, the question is to know why the soldiers are sweating : is it because they are actually fighting, or is it just because the action takes place in summer, and that everybody is sweating at that time in the year, even if they have nothing to do but walk. A farmer or a construction worker would be sweating too. So far, Hemingway describes situations that can be adapted to a war context, but not only to a war context, hence a touch of indecisiveness in the reader’s mind.
On page 32, the narrator helps a soldier to injure himself, so he doesn’t have to go on the front. It so happens that this other soldier is also an American and it leads to the understanding that the two Americans are both outsiders and that they are not involved in the war the way true Italians, or true Europeans may be. The narrator tries to be involved but not in the way he should be as an officer. He is both in and out. In the same way, at the bottom of page 33, it is said that the narrator came back to the villa at 5 o’clock pm. That means that he doesn’t work long, as if it was a regular job. After these first three pages of chapter 7, the interpretation of the reader about the narrator is uncertain, as a reflection of Frederick’s motivation in the war
At the bottom of page 38, the narrator explains that due to the absence of Catherine he ‘’suddenly felt (…) lonely and empty ‘’ and he also says at the last line of the chapter: ‘’when I could not see her there I was feeling lonely and hollow ‘’. This is arguably the first time in the novel that the narrator expresses deep feelings and it is little surprise that they have nothing to do with the war.
Margot, with Killian, Marie & Sarah.