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At the turn of the century when discussing the subject of war there was only one Latin ideal which could come to mind: ” Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori”; it is sweet and proper to die for one’s country. Through the graphic depictions of Charles Harrison’s Generals Die in Bed and Ernest Hemmingway’s Farewell to Arms, world society is introduced to the horrors of modern day warfare in a way that has yet to be forgotten. Both Fredric Henry and the characters of Generals Die in Bed, despite the many hardships they face, are still able to function as human beings by displaying characteristics of friendship within the ranks, feelings of love, and sorrow which comes with the death of a loved one back home, or the death of a fellow soldier. Despite all this the human sprit lives on.
From the opening chapter in Montreal, to the graphic portrayal of battle, the characters of Generals Die in Bed, form friendships on the basis that only the men in the trenches next to them will ever be able to relate to the agony of war. Comradeship and esprit de corp, according to the narrator, are merely words that are used by reporters. For the “grunts” in the trenches life was much simpler; “… a belly full to eat, enough smokes to last the night, and the trust of the guy next to you”, Harrison explains. Their friendship is tested when a fight breaks out between Cleary and Broadbent. When bread is being distributed by Cleary, Broadbent suspects that his piece is smaller than the rest and immediately goes after Cleary. The other men separate the two “snarling animals” as a bombardment begins. Harrison shows us that like a family, they fight over what may seem like the petty things in life but because the other men separate Cleary and Broadbent, they care enough to keep the two from killing each other. It’s only later, when the men are on leave that they can act like humans. Fry discovers a nearby stream and the men decide to go swimming. “We have nearly lost that aged, harassed look which we wear in the front lines. We are youngsters again.” Harrison suggests that it is only when the soldiers are stripped of their uniform, for the first time in months, that they begin to act civilized again; shouting and splashing in the water like children. It’s the shared dream of leave, a bellyful to eat, and the prospect of home that keep these men together.
In Hemmingway’s Farewell to Arms, Lt. Fredric Henry, the main character of the story, forms a major friendship with the priest. For Fredric, the idea of friendship is much more complicated than the average foot soldier. Hemmingway shows us the strength of the friendship that exists when the Priest encourages him to go to Arbuzzi. Despite upsetting the priest by not going the two are still good friends, because according to Fredric, “the priest had always known what I did not know and what, when I learned it, he was always able to forgive.”(Chapter 3, pg 14). When Henry is wounded the priest brings him mosquito netting, vermouth, and English papers in spite of not going to Arbuzzi. This shows us that the priest’s character is all forgiving and the least likely to hold grudges. Fred senses that something is troubling the priest and asks him what is on his mind. To Fred’s surprise, the priest responds that it is the war; “still even wounded you do not see it. I can tell. I do not see it myself but I feel it a little” (Chapter 11, pg.70). He tells Fred that he can’t understand it because he is a foreigner, a patriot. According to the priest, the ones who do not want war cannot stop it because their leaders sell them out. Fred can relate to this being, “American in the Italian Army.” (Chapter 5, pg. 22) and understands where the priest is coming from. Like the priest, Fred joins this war as a patriot. He is a foreigner fighting another man’s war. It is through the friendship with the priest that both characters can vent their feelings about the war and not let it destroy them.
While on leave in London the narrator runs into a girl named Gladys. Harrison can only describe her as, “a pretty girl and an excellent companion for a soldier on leave”, (chapter 8, pg104). This suggests that the relationship for Harrison is merely of sexual nature but after spending time with her at the theatre, in the pubs, and finally at her place, Harrison opens up to her about his true feelings of war by crying. This is due mainly to the fact that Harrison has had bottled up emotions that only come out when he is with an understanding person like Gladys, “I always feel sad when the boys cry in my bed. It makes me feel that it is my fault in some way.”(Chapter 8, pg108) As morning comes the narrator wakes to the smell of grilled bacon. The narrator is completely astonished by what lays in front of him, it is a full breakfast none the likes of which he has seen in years. Gladys is the first civilian to understand what he and many other men at the front have been through, “How well this women understands what a lonely soldier on leave requires.” After spending a week with Gladys Harrison describes his deep feelings about her saying that,
” In a dozen different ways she makes me happy: a pat on the back, a run of her hand through my hand. She is that delightful combination of wife, mother, and courtesan-and I, a common soldier on leave, have her!”(Chapter 8, pg111)
This is one of the rare times where the narrator has any strong feeling of happiness or love towards anyone. When Harrison’s leave is up, he is about to board the train but before they depart they embrace each other one more time and again tears from fall from both the narrators face and Gladys suggesting that an element of love exists here between the two. Harrison even depicts his love for her, saying that, “She is all the things I have longed for in the long months at the front”. This relationship with Gladys not only gives Harrison the opportunity to relieve the pain caused by the war but also provides him with a sense of hope for the future, knowing that when and if he ever comes back home, that he will be able to find someone like Gladys who can understand what he has experienced at the front and not let the hardships of war destroy him.
Henry falls for a British nurse named Catherine and is immediately attracted to her beauty. Fredric meets up with her the following day. After a short discussion about her nursing career Fred leans forward to kiss her and she slaps him. She apologizes and he, feeling that he has an advantage, tells her it is all right. “You see I’ve been leading a sort of a funny life. And I never even talk English. And you are so very beautiful.”(Chapter 5, pg. 26). Catherine kisses Fredric and then cries on his shoulder and asks if he will be good to her because “we’re going to have a strange life.” (Chapter 5, pg. 27) When Fredric goes to bed, Rinaldi is awake, he is questioned about the encounter and the two begin to joke about the matter. Hemmingway shows us that Fredric’s originally only intended to sleep with her and nothing else. After he finally has sex with her, Catherine asks if he loves her, Fredric lies and tells her yes. Catherine however, is not so naive to believe his response, and after they have sex, she tells him this. It is only when Fred spends too much time foolishly drinking that he realizes how much he wants to see her, “I went out the door and suddenly I felt lonely and empty. I had treated seeing Catherine very lightly. I had gotten somewhat drunk and had nearly forgotten to come but when I could not see her there I was feeling lonely and hollow.”(Chapter 7, pg. 41). Feelings of love begin to surface. When Fredric is wounded, he does not see her for a couple of days and can’t stand being apart from her, “Catherine Barkley took three days off night duty and then she came back on again. It was as though we met again after each of us had been away on a long journey” (Chapter 17, pg. 111) Fredric begins to comment on Catherine’s hair it reminds him of being enclosed inside a tent or behind a waterfall. “She had wonderfully beautiful hair and I would lie sometimes and watch her twisting it up in the light that came in the open door and it shone even in the night as water shines sometimes just before it is really daylight.” (Chapter 18, pg. 114) This lovely description stands as a symbol of the couple’s isolation from the world, their relationship is seen as the only escape from the horrors of wars. An element of love begins to exist when simple things like watching her brush her hair, or kissing her neck, make him feel faint. Any worries about their relationship are put aside by her presence. Only a human is capable of expressing such emotions.
The narrator watches helplessly as his only living friend Broadbent, lies next to him in a pool of blood, bleeding to death. When the narrator finds Broadbent with his partly amputated leg he is stricken with fear and cannot answer his friend when he asks if his leg has fallen off. Harrison provides an indirect comparison of the pain felt by seeing his friend in a helpless state to, “the pool of blood that grew as though it where fed by a subterranean spring.”(Chapter 12, pg 171) This suggest that the sorrow felt by the death of Broadbent, as well as the others who has died, is unending and flows continuously within. Harrison’s depiction of his friend’s death shows the cruelty and sorrow brought by the death of even the most hardened soldier. His officers trained him as a heartless killing machine but like all men who live and die no drill moments, no intensive conditioning can stop them from feeling the physical and mental pain brought on by the death of fellow foot soldiers. He dies as a human or as Harrison puts it bluntly, “Like hundreds of other men I have seen die, Broadbent dies like a little boy too-weeping, calling for his mother.” (Chapter 12, pg 172) Despite this the narrator is not destroyed by what he sees in front of him. Shortly after being picked up by the stretcher-bearers and being placed on a train bound for the hospital, a female of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps boards the train. Regardless of his friends death and the man next to him on the train, this does not stop him from joking around with her. Harrison suggests that the narrator is not destroyed by the war through the means of expressing his sorrow on the battlefield instead of carrying it with him onto his trip home.
Fredric Henry has seen many of his troops killed, as an ambulance driver, he has seen the grim realities of war but with his relationship with Catherine is the only escape from the shelled and bullet holed landscape of his life. When Fredric deserts the Italian Army to be with Catherine, months after his “farewell to arms”, Catherine becomes pregnant. Months pass and Catherine wakes Fredric complaining of pain that hit every half an hour. At the hospital, complications from the birth result in the baby dieing but Fredric is not interested in the baby but only in Catherine’s safety. Hemmingway provides the reader with the foreshadowing of events to come,
“I sat down on the chair in front of a table where there were nurses’ reports hung on clips at the side and looked out of the window. I could see nothing but the dark and the rain falling across the light from the windows. So that was it. The baby was dead.” (Chapter 41, pg. 327)
He thinks about a log full of ants that he burned in a campfire when he was younger and how the ants looked when they were dying. Catherine later has a hemorrhage and it is very dangerous. She knows she is going to die, but tells him she isn’t afraid. “It seems she had one hemorrhage after another. They couldn’t stop it. I went into the room and stayed with Catherine until she died. She was unconscious all the time, and it did not take her very long to die.” (Chapter 41, pg. 331) He has lost his only true love and his only shield from the war. After she dies the doctor offers to take Fredric to his hotel but refuses and also ask that he be alone with Catherine to say goodbye. Hemmingway’s use of diction shows the reader the true sorrow that is felt by his loss, “But after I got them to leave and shut the door and turned off the light it wasn’t any good. It was like saying good-by to a statue. After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain.”(Chapter 41, pg. 332) The tragedy of the novel rests in the fact that their love, even when genuine, can never be more than temporary in this world. In spite of this tragedy, Fredric is able to walk out of that hospital hurt, but not broken.
Through the many friendships with the people around them, the momentary or long-term moments of love, and sorrow, Charles Harrison and Fredric Henry fail to be destroyed by the war. The human sprit of Charles Harrison and Fredric Henry cannot be broken by displaying human characteristics of friendship, love, and sorrow, these two men still have the ability to function as human beings and not just as killing machines that their superiors force them to be. Erasmus, one of the many scholars during the renaissance; the revival of classical learning and art in 15th century Italy once said that: “war is delightful to those who have not experienced it.” Back home people foolishly believed that war was a glorious and honourable thing, not as pointless slaughter. In a society like ours that is rapidly placing more importance on technological advancements and less importance on the humanities, we must learn from the mistakes of the past so we may not need to repeat them.
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