A Separate Peace
by rejoyce on August 18, 2007Ernest Hemingway's Farewell to Arms has entered the American canon, but a few things might still be said. In his fictionalization of his experience as an ambulance driver in Italy during World War I, the author does much to deglorify war, including the emptiness of abstract nouns such as glory that is used to characterize it. His protagonist Frederick Henry makes a "separate peace" after deserting to Switzerland. In addition, Hemingway's macho public image is somewhat contradicted--there's even a surprising hint of androgyny--by the awful ending when Henry agonizes (albeit speechlessly) over his lover Catherine Barkley's Caesarian section. Elsewhere the disaffection with war is palpable in some passages, which militates against the writer's heroic Papa persona. It's a decidedly anti-heroic novel. Hemingway's prose still seems a revolution: the spareness of his sentences, his elimination of most physical description and character psychology, the seemingly objective reportorial style (though in fact Hemingway writes a limpid lyricism about the land). The novelist also incorporates Joyce's use of interior monologue, though of course he lacks the Irish writer's rapturous language or Faulkner's high baroque style. What dates the novel is the stylized dialogue; "fine" refers to all things good, while "very" is often the only modifier. Hollywood would take a cue from Hemingway's dialogue--"Oh darling" is a common phrase--which embalms the characters' disaffected speech in the Jazz Age of the Twenties. This reader prefers In Our Time, his early collection of short stories, particularly Hemingway's Nick Adams stories.
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