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Critical Theory in a Farewell to Arms

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A Farewell to arms ishistorical fiction, a story set in “the past,” that often involves historical events either directly in the plot or as a background to the main plot’s events. Historical novels may or may not involve actual people who lived during the time period the story is set. Critics have not yet reached an exact definition of historical fiction. The most popular opinions are that historical fiction is set in a time period either (1) before the author’s lifetime or (2) ten or more years before the time it was written.As Ernest Hemingway was born in 1899 and did, in fact, drive an ambulance for the Italian army during World War I. According to the first view of historical fiction, A Farewell to Armsis not a historical novel. According to the second view, it is. Clearly, however, the setting of World War I is more than mere decoration, and the characters’ attitudes and actions are shaped in large part by their context. Were the story set in another time and against another background, the lives of the characters would inevitably play out differently.

Thus, the novel can be considered “historical.”Set in Italy during the First World War, Hemingway’s novel revolves around Frederic Henry, an American ambulance driver for the Italian Army. Seeking diversion from the war, Frederic enters into a omance with a British nurse also serving in Italy. The nurse, Catherine Barkley, has recently lost her long-time fiancé in one of the horrific battles of the Somme in France. Frederic and Catherine authentically represent many of the men and women who served with the Allied Forces in what contemporaries called The Great War; they not only faced difficult decisions about the importance of serving in the army and winning the war, but they also experienced a growing love and began to worry about each other’s safety and security. Modernism

Over the twenty years before the Great War, confidence in traditional beliefs and expectations gradually eroded under questions about the sanctity of religion, the efficacy of science, and the cultural isolationism of the U.S. Increasingly, change seemed necessary; the old needed to give way to the new. As famed critic and Hemingway biographer Michael S. Reynolds argues, “[t]he war merely put a period on the end of a sentence that had been twenty years in the writing.” The artistic response to the feeling that modern life was more “disorganized” than had been expected is called modernism, which literary scholars usually see as emerging between the two World Wars. Modernist writers and artists privileged dedication to craft over traditional beliefs. Twentieth-century critic and social commentator Edmund Wilson recalled that modernist writers wanted to create “something in which every word, every cadence, every detail, Formalist Approach Applied to A Farewell to Arms

Notes on the Formalist Approach
THe formalist aPProacH to literature as developed at the beginning of the 20th century and remained popular until the 1970s, when other literary theories began to gain popularity. Today, formalism is generally regarded as a rigid and inaccessible means of reading literature, used in Ivy League classrooms and as the subject of scorn in rebellious coming-of-age films. It is an approach that is concerned primarily with form, as its name suggests, and thus places the greatest emphasis on how something is said, rather than what is said. Formalists believe that a work is a separate entity not at all dependent upon the author’s life or the culture in which the work is created. No paraphrase is used in a formalist examination, and no reader reaction is discussed.

Originally, formalism was a new and unique idea. The formalists were called “New Critics,” and their approach to literature became the standard academic approach. Like classical artists such as da Vinci and Michaelangelo, the formalists concentrated more on the form of the art rather than the content. They studied the recurrences, the repetitions, the relationships, and the motifs in a work in order to understand what the work was about. The formalists viewed the tiny details of a work as nothing more than parts of the whole. In the formalist approach, even a lack of form indicates something. Absurdity is in itself a form—one used to convey a specific meaning (even if the meaning is a lack of meaning). The formalists also looked at smaller parts of a work to understand the meaning. Details like diction, punctuation, and syntax all give clues.

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