A Farewell to Arms

In 1948, Hemingway added an introduction to this book, that had been originally published in 1929. In this introduction, we learn that Hemingway wrote its first draft very quickly and every day to the point of complete exhaustion such that he completed it in only six weeks. He then spent a great deal of effort on rewriting the book.


The forty-seven alternative endings serve as great examples of that rewriting. I like some of those alternative endings no less than the chosen one. An example of that is the funeral ending in version 12:

After people die you have to bury them but you do not have to write about it. You do not have to write about an undertaker nor all the business of burial. You do not have to write about that day nor the next night of the day after and the night after, and the progress from numbness into sorrow nor all the days after and all the nights after for a long time. In writing you have a certain choice that you do not have in life.

The religious ending and live-baby ending versions are not to my liking, at least the exact words written as they were. Gladly, Hemingway did not choose either. Reaching the end of the book, as a reader, I am not looking for an epiphany or consolation, but a cliff of some sort, such as death.  Whatever the turmoil or feeling one has experienced through reading this book can not and should not be consoled or enlightened, one should be sunken deeply into it. To me, this is the wicked pleasure of reading this novel, both painful and beautiful.

There were also two pages of possible titles considered for this novel. Some of these possible titles, “A Separate Peace”, “Late Wisdom”, “The Time Exchanged”, “In Another Country”, I like. Some others make me cringe, for example, “Love in Italy”, “The Sentimental Education”, “If You Must Love”, “Love is One Fervent Fire”. I am thankful that Hemingway did not choose any of those for my severely prejudiced mind might have resisted reading this book forever.

Hemingway wrote about the time of writing this book:

I remember all of these things happening and the places we lived in and the fine times and the bad times we had in that year. But much more vividly I remember living in the book and making up what happened in it every day. Making the country and the people and the things that happened I was happier than I had ever been. Each day I read the book through from the beginning to the point where I went on writing and each day I stopped when I was still going good and when I knew what would happen next.

The fact the book was a tragic one did not make me unhappy since I believed that life was a tragedy and knew it could have only one end. But finding you were able to make something up; to create truly enough so that it made you happy to read it; and to do this every day you worked was something that gave a greater pleasure than any I had ever known. Beside it nothing else mattered.

He wrote about having this book illustrated:

unless the artist is as good or better a painter or draftsman than the writer is a writer, there can be no more disappointing thing than for the writer to see the things and the places and the people that he remembers making drawn and put on paper by someone else who was not there.

Hemingway wrote about his “considered belief” about the wars and people:

…wars are fought by the finest people that there are, or just say people, although, the closer you are to where they are fighting, the finer people you meet; but they are made, provoked and initiated by straight economic rivalries and by swine that stand to profit from them. I believe that all the people who stand to profit by a war and who help provoke it should be shot on the first day it starts by accredited representatives of the loyal citizens of their country who will fight it. The author of this book would be very glad to take charge of this shooting, if legally delegated by those who will fight, and see that it would be performed as humanely and correctly as possible (some of the shoot-ees would undoubtedly behave more correctly than others) and see that all the bodies were given decent burial. We might even arrange to have them buried in cellophane or any one of the newer plastic materials. If, at the end of the day, there was any evidence that I had in any way provoked the new war or had not performed my delegated duties correctly, I would be willing, if not pleased, to be shot by the same firing squad and be buried either with or without cellophane or be left naked on a hill.

One writing technique stands out profoundly in this book and Hemingway’s other writing: repetition. He used repetition boldly, unapologetically, and masterfully.

There are so many passages highlighted by me that hard to share any specific ones. Here are some painstakingly selected few:

There was a great contrast between his world pessimism and personal cheeriness.

“Now I am depressed myself,” I said. “That’s why I never think about these things. I never think and yet when I begin to talk I say the things I have found out in my mind without thinking.”

The questioners had that beautiful detachment and devotion to stern justice of men dealing in death without being in any danger of it.

I did not say anything. I was always embarrassed by the words sacred, glorious, and sacrifice and the expression in vain. We had heard them, sometimes standing in the rain almost out of earshot, so that only the shouted words came through, and had read them, on proclamations that were slapped up by billposters over other proclamations, now for a long time, and I had seen nothing sacred, and the things that were glorious had no glory and the sacrifices were like the stockyards at Chicago if nothing was done with the meat except to bury it. There were many words that you could not stand to hear and finally only the names of places had dignity. Certain numbers were the same way and certain dates and these with the names of the places were all you could say and have them mean anything. Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and the dates.

“No, that is the great fallacy; the wisdom of old men. They do not grow wise. They grow careful.”

The nurse went into the room and shut the door. I sat outside in the hall. Everything was gone inside of me. I did not think. I could not think. I knew she was going to die and I prayed that she would not. Don’t let her die. Oh, God, please don’t let her die. I’ll do anything for you if you won’t let her die. Please, please, please, dear God, don’t let her die. Dear God, don’t let her die. Please, please, please don’t let her die. God please make her not die. I’ll do anything you say if you don’t let her die. You took the baby but don’t let her die. That was all right but don’t let her die. Please, please, dear God, don’t let her die.

The last paragraph quoted above spoke precisely what went on in my mind in silence and many times crying out in private for a lengthy period of time time, when my father was in imminent danger of death. Hemingway wrote about waking up sweating and scared and then went back to sleep trying to stay outside of his dream. Having great command of English language and being able to write about my dreams is a dream of mine. Presently, I shall not open this Pandora’s box yet.

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