A Farewell to Arms: Alcohol
“Alcohol is the anesthesia by which we endure the operation of life” (George Bernard Shaw). Throughout the young adult novel A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, Frederick Henry, the protagonist, goes through numerous struggles, be it physical aches that he retains from the war, or troubles with his mind that are caused by his complicated relationship with Catherine Barkley. However, despite all of his struggles, Henry finds consolation in alcohol, consuming copious amounts of it to carry him through his troubles. Thus, the idea that the symbol of alcohol represents the various ways in which man numbs the pain of his problems is made evident through Henry’s constant consumption of it.
One of the ways in which Henry’s use of alcohol to numb his physical aches is shown is in the conversation that Henry has with Miss Van Campen after he drinks himself into jaundice. Campen accuses Henry of cowardice by claiming that he does “not [want] to go back to the front” and thus, has inflicted “jaundice [on himself] with alcoholism” (Hemingway 144). Despite having some validity in her overarching idea that alcohol should not be used as a solution to all of life’s problems, Campen’s accusation that Henry gives himself liver disease on purpose is invalid. As Henry himself states, just as a man would not “disable himself by kicking himself in the scrotum,” he wouldn’t expose himself to a condition that matches that amount of pain, not when there are better alternatives (144). A more likely assumption is that Henry drinks so much alcohol to help him get over his physical struggles with his ruptured knee, which, as the reader observes by the fact that “[he] could feel it going in and out of the bone” by simply bending it, causes him a great amount of pain (83). Henry’s immediate relaxation from the pain after the hospital provides him a constant supply of alcohol shows that the alcohol does in fact help him greatly in coping with said pain....
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