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A farewell to arm style

A Farewell to Arms: Style

Critics usually describe Hemingway's style as simple, spare, and journalistic.

These are all good words; they all apply. Perhaps because of his training as a

newspaperman, Hemingway is a master of the declarative, subject-verb-object

sentence. His writing has been likened to a boxer's punches--combinations of

lefts and rights coming at us without pause. Take the following passage:

We were all cooked. The thing was not to recognize it. The last country to

realize they were cooked would win the war. We had another drink. Was I on

somebody's staff? No. He was. It was all balls.

The style gains power because it is so full of sensory detail.

There was an inn in the trees at the Bains de l'Allaiz where the woodcutters

stopped to drink, and we sat inside warmed by the stove and drank hot red wine

with spices and lemon in it. They called it gluhwein and it was a good thing to

warm you and to celebrate with. The inn was dark and smoky inside and afterward

when you went out the cold air came sharply into your lungs and numbed the edge

of your nose as you inhaled.

The simplicity and the sensory richness flow directly from Hemingway's and his

characters'--beliefs. The punchy, vivid language has the immediacy of a news

bulletin: these are facts, Hemingway is telling us, and they can't be ignored.

And just as Frederic Henry comes to distrust abstractions like "patriotism," so

does Hemingway distrust them. Instead he seeks the concrete, the tangible: "hot

red wine with spices, cold air that numbs your nose." A simple "good" becomes

higher praise than another writer's string of decorative adjectives.

Though Hemingway is best known for the tough simplicity of style seen in the

first passage cited above, if we take a close look at A Farewell to Arms, we

will often find another Hemingway at work--a writer who is aiming for certain

complex effects, who is experimenting with language, and who is often self-

consciously manipulating words. Some sentences are clause-filled and eighty or

more words long. Take for example the description in Chapter 1 that begins,

"There were mists over the river and clouds on the mountain"; it paints an

entire dreary wartime autumn and foreshadows the deaths not only of many of the

soldiers but of Catherine.

Hemingway's style changes, too, when it reflects his characters' changing states

of mind. Writing from Frederic Henry's point of view, he sometimes uses a

modified stream-of-consciousness technique, a method for spilling out on paper

the inner thoughts of a character. Usually Henry's thoughts are choppy, staccato,

but when he becomes drunk the language does too, as in the passage in Chapter 3:

I had gone to no such place but to the smoke of cafes and nights when the room

whirled and you needed to look at the wall to make it stop, nights in bed, drunk,

when you knew that that was all there was, and the strange excitement of waking

and not knowing who it was with you, and the world all unreal in the dark and so

exciting that you must resume again unknowing and not caring in the night, sure

that this was all and all and all and not caring.

The rhythm, the repetition, have us reeling with Henry.

Thus, Hemingway's prose is in fact an instrument finely tuned to reflect his

characters and their world. As we read A Farewell to Arms, we must try to

understand the thoughts and feelings Hemingway seeks to inspire in us by the way

he uses language.

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