Hemingway & The Broken Places

There are two themes that I often reflect on when readingĀ A Farewell To Arms. These two are optimism and pessimism. These opposite themes weave in and out of the novel as Hemingway explores the consequences of war and its effect on mankind through the eyes of the main character, Henry. Amidst the war, two people, Henry and Catherine, come together and find a kind of comforting peace. Henry and Catherine are both struggling with the effects of the war and need one another to feel stable. You can describe this as love but for me, it’s an example of human companionship. They are a presence of comfort in each other’s lives, and this allows them to organize themselves from the chaos of war. Even at the worst times, human comfort can bring relief and human beings can come together and provide moments of happiness and bliss that can remove the person from the things they might suffer from. This optimistic viewpoint contrasts with the pessimistic one that is often showcased in the tragedy of any war novel.

Both these themes are present in the following passage, which displays Hemingway’s writing ability, for he can convey such depth through the use of simple sentences and language.

If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.

When I read this, I am reminded of the struggles of life. Not just my own, but rather the struggle of people around me. The passage brings awareness to the thought that everyone is going through something or has gone through something or will go through something. This is life. Life is hard and it is difficult and even when you go through the rough parts of life and come out of it and “many are strong at the broken places”, life is not done, it will put more obstacles, more trials, more struggles in your path and that’s it. There is nothing else to it. You either withstand the struggle long enough or you allow it to break you early. Once more, “there will be no special hurry”.

Hemingway’s pessimism is clear in the passage, however, there is also optimism. There is a belief in man. That people can be courageous, gentle, brave and good. That even when life breaks you or you fail, you can use that to harden yourself, to get stronger, to get better and yes, ultimately there is no beating life, but it is in the struggle against life that one can show his or her true characteristics. Meaning, the hardships of life are there so you can be better for a period of time. In a way, you can be grateful for this kind of life because “many are strong at the broken places”.

Lastly, this passage is a good reminder to be kind. To be kind to people you know. You may be unaware of the troubles they are going through in their minds or in their personal life or work life. So, be patient with people. Be kind and patient with strangers as well for they are just like you, they are battling life, we are all in the same fight and through kindness and companionship, we can ease that fight, just a little. Or at least bring some kind of momentary relief as Henry and Catherine do for each other.

The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day. This is real freedom (David Foster Wallace)