Natural Symbolism,death And Language

Essay by m_iria_m July 2004

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Ernest Hemingway's novel A Farewell to Arms (1929) uses nature to structure the novel and provide symbols that replace human emotions. Nature serves as a basic structure for the plot and the actions that occur. It also emerges as a source of symbols that replace human sentiment or feelings. Characters die and there is no mention of sadness or pain. Instead, Hemingway writes that it is raining, that it is autumn, or that peace has occurred when people are still at war. The replacement of emotions with symbols allows Hemingway to frequently understate what is really going on in the action. He further uses symbols to completely omit references to sentiments or feelings. Even more unsettling is the fact that these symbols often ironically represent the opposite of their meanings in common parlance. Not only symbols, but also individual words, come to be used in this way. This undermines the use of technical language throughout the novel and causes the breakdown of that language.

Thus, symbols and words provide a basis for the structure of the novel and for the loss of the technical language.

The structure of the novel occurs largely through natural symbolism, i.e. symbols drawn from nature. This is set up in the first chapter, which shows the rapid progression of the seasons from summer into autumn. Summer is identified with dryness and abundance, a plain "rich with crops" (3). This is immediately contrasted with autumn, where "the branches were bare and the trunks black with rain" (4). This miniature transition of the seasons relates to the larger transitions in the novel as a whole. For example, the first part of the novel takes place in relative dryness up until when Catherine informs Henry that she is going to have a baby. No sooner has she told...