Hemingway: A Farewell to Arms

A Farewell to Arms (published 1929) is a book of love and war. It focuses on a romance between an officer and nurse against the backdrop of World War I. The book has been tagged as Hemingway’s bleakest novel. However, it was Hemingway’s first best-seller, and is described by biographer Michael Reynolds as “the premier American war novel from that debacle [World War I]”.


This book is a simple story of complex issues, which Hemingway has seemingly made simple. Here is a dozen great thoughts on love and war and man’s ability to survive them both.

  • All thinking men are atheists.
  • “There isn’t always an explanation for everything.” / “Oh, isn’t there? I was brought up to think there was.” / “That’s awfully nice.”
  • There is nothing as bad as war.
  • War is not won by victory.
  • “Fight or die. That’s what people do. They don’t marry.” / They love each other and they misunderstand on purpose and they fight and then suddenly they aren’t the same one…. There’s only us two and in the world there’s all the rest of them. If anything comes between us we’re gone and then they have us.
  • “The coward dies a thousand deaths, the brave but one”…. The man who first said that was probably a coward…. “He knew a great deal about cowards but nothing about the brave. The brave dies perhaps two thousand deaths if he’s intelligent. He simply doesn’t mention them.”
  • Life isn’t hard to manage when you’ve nothing to lose.
  • No, that is the great fallacy: the wisdom of old men. They do not grow wise. They grow careful.
  •  “Now I am depressed myself,’ I said. ‘That’s why I never think about these things. I never think and yet when I begin to talk I say the things I have found out in my mind without thinking.”
  • Wine is a grand thing. It makes you forget all the bad.
  • I was always embarrassed by the words sacred, glorious, and sacrifice and the expression in vain…. There were so many words that you could not stand to hear and finally only the names of places had dignity.
  • 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.


(ed. – This is the third of five Hemingway masterpieces to be featured in the 2012 By George Journal pages.)


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