A In Medias Res

A Farewell to Arms opens in medias res-literally, in the middle of the thing. For the novel, this “thing,” constantly referred to as “it,” is the war. Hemingway is certainly not the first to use this technique to bring the reader immediately into the story. In fact, the one of the greatest Western war stories of all time-Homer’s Iliad-opens in the middle of the Trojan war. Hemingway’s use of the technique sets the tone of the novel as one of disjointure and alienation. The reader steps immediately into a world described by someone remembering. However, we are given no clues about time, place, or even the characters. In fact, it takes a good deal of reading before even the name of the narrator is learned.

B Persona

Originally referring to the mask worn by stage actors in ancient Greece, the persona is the image of the character as it is expressed in reaction to its environment. Hemingway reveals the persona of his main character by the way he reacts to the statements of others. This is demonstrated early in the novel by Frederic’s non-reaction to Catherine’s story. She describes how her fiance was “blown to bits,” and Frederic’s response is to say nothing. Rinaldi, on the other hand, is full of chivalry and charm because his persona is one of Italian machismo. The story is told from Frederic’s point of view and thus it has his voice. However, as a further development of his persona, his voicing of the story rarely devolves to a personal-“I did this.” Instead, he speaks in terms of “we” until finally he is all alone and, by default, an “I.”

C Black humor

Black humor is a nervous humor which famous psychologist Sigmund Freud described as a way of repressing fear through laughter. Also known as graveyard humor, it is used throughout the novel to mask the very real fear of death. The starkest use of this type of humor is by Catherine Barkley when she is dying from internal bleeding suffered from a stillbirth. Though in great pain she manages to utter “black humor” when the doctor says she must not be silly because she is not going to die. To this she repeats a phrase she used earlier in the book when Frederic was in the hospital, “All right… I’ll come and stay with you nights….” The inevitability of death and the impossibility of the decision make the comment painfully ironic.

D Dialogue

Hemingway employs dialogue at the expense of narrative whenever he can. He does this in order avoid long passages of “unnecessary prose.” Thus, he reveals information about the plot through a dialogue marked by terse, direct, language that could be called common speech. This effort at realism also disables any attempt to define Hemingway’s actual position on any of the themes in the novel. Since the story tells itself through the characters who are involved, the reader is left with his or her own thoughts on the subject-thoughts which are influenced by the speech of the characters, not Hemingway.

According to the critic Henry Hazlitt, dialogue is best when it is of a narrow range. He continues, “one may think of this either as cause or result of the narrow range of the characters.” This is a good thing, he says, for Hemingway’s characters “are never complicated people, either emotionally or intellectually, for if they were, the casual hard-boiled Hemingway manner would be incapable of dealing with them.”

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