A Farewell to Arms: 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.