Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms

By Harold Bloom | Go to book overview

Hemingway's "Resentful Cryptogram"

Judith Fetterley

Perhaps others were struck, as I was, when I first read Erich Segal's Love Story by the similarity between it and Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms. Both stories are characterized by a disparity between what is overtly stated and what is covertly expressed. Both ask the reader to believe in the perfection of a love whose substance seems woefully inadequate and whose signature is death. "What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl who died," asks Oliver Barrett IV on the opening page of Love Story. The answer is, as the question implies, not very much. Because the investment of this love story, like so many others, is not in the life of the beloved but in her death and in the emotional kickback which the hero gets from that death— Oliver Barrett weeping in the arms of his long-estranged but now-reconciled father. What one can't, or won't, say is precisely that which alone would be worth saying— namely, that you loved her because she died, or, conversely, that because you loved her she died. While A Farewell to Arms is an infinitely more complex book than Love Story, nevertheless its emotional dynamics and its form are similar. In reading it one is continually struck by the disparity between its overt fabric of idealized romance and its underlying vision of the radical limitations of love, between its surface idyll and its subsurface critique. And one is equally struck by its heavy use of the metaphor and motif of disguise. When Sheridan Baker describes A Farewell to Arms as a "resentful cryptogram," he is essentially extending this metaphor to the form of the novel itself. That deviousness and indirection are often the companions of hostility is no new observation and feminists have

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From Journal of Popular Culture 10, no. 1 ( Summer 1976). © 1976 by Ray B. Browne.

-61-

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Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Ernest Hemingway's a Farewell to Arms *
  • Modern Critical Interpretations *
  • A Farewell to Arms *
  • Contents *
  • Editor's Note vii
  • Introduction 1
  • The Novel as Pure Poetry 9
  • Tragic Form in a Farewell to Arms 25
  • A Farewell to Arms: A Dream Book 33
  • Going Back 49
  • Hemingway's "Resentful Cryptogram" 61
  • The Sense of an Ending in a Farewell to Arms 77
  • Frederic Henry's Escape and the Pose of Passivity 97
  • Pseudoautobiography and Personal Metaphor 113
  • Catherine Barkley and the Hemingway Code: Ritual and Survival in a Farewell to Arms 131
  • Chronology 149
  • Contributors 151
  • Bibliography 153
  • Acknowledgments 157
  • Index 159
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