Literary Research Essay: “A Farewell to Arms” by Ernest Hemingway and “Falling Man” by Don DeLillo
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway and Falling Man by Don DeLillo show that within different social and historical contexts, such traumatic situations as violence and horror tend to affect people equally. Even though these writers describe totally different events from diverse historical periods, the themes they represent in their works are very similar. Both Ernest Hemingway and Don DeLillo show great interest to the concepts of life and death, inevitability of death, and ways of overcoming fear in the face of dying. The writers’ concern over the destiny of a human being in anticipation of inevitable death is demonstrated through the main characters’ reaction to psychological trauma that violence and horror cause.
DeLillo’s characters always handle dangerous sides of life (Jacobsen 4). Similarly, Falling Man shows the reader the experience of a person who managed to survive dreadful events of September 9/11. Even though Keith Neudecker can be called a lucky person for his escape from the north tower of the World Trade Center, his feelings are mixed, and he is far from being happy. In Falling Man, the children and adults live with subconscious fear of being the neighbors of terrorists who are “probably being watched, phones tapped, signals intercepted” (DeLillo 81). Thus, the characters of the novel seem to experience constant worries and anxiety after being exposed to the horror events of bombing and witnessing deaths of many people.
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The Falling Man demonstrates the profound effect that traumatic situations have on people’s further life. Constant fear of terrorist attacks and possibility of new dreadful events occurrence does not leave the main characters. The horror of September 9/11 has led to the emergence of subconscious and even paranoiac fear in all members of society. Even those who were not victims or witnesses of these events can feel the fear subconsciously. Many people acquired this feeling due to mass media influence. The television and other channels provided the exact recordings of the horrific events as well as described every single detail of the dreadfulness of bombing and disparity of many people (Conte 560). The reality and peace of mind of people were shaken when they first heard the news about bombing. Under the influence of fear, violence, and horror of what people have faced, the minds of victims, witnesses, and individuals who simply have learned about the event from news changed.
A Farewell to Arms by Hemingway presents the effect of war on the main characters. Even though the events of Hemingway’s work and that of DeLillo’s book seem quite different, they have a common core: fear and horror, which people experiencing war and reality connected with it feel. Since Hemingway describes war events, the reader should expect to find the scenes of horror, violence, and lack of mercy in his book. However, even this expectancy does not help to prepare to the dreadful deeds of some characters. Destruction and death seem logical consequences of every war but it still hard to understand them (Tyler 83). Probably, human mind has been originally created for peaceful life, and the atrocities and violence of war are something it does not want to agree with.
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Through the deeds and words of the main characters, Hemingway clearly shows how humans strive for love and life, not violence and death. In one of the conversations with Henry, the main character, an ordinary ambulance driver reveals the simple truth: “There is nothing worse than war” (Hemingway 51). Even though Henry demonstrates that he is against war, he cannot escape it since it is his duty as a lieutenant to be a leader of his soldiers (Wagner-Martin 161). Therefore, the main character continues to fulfill this duty until he receives a wound, goes to the hospital, and falls in love with a young nurse.
In A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway reveals his great interest to the theme of death, its causes, and nature. He professionally analyzes every detail that concerns this topic. The writer eventually concludes that “death is unavoidable and is the biggest and most frightening reality” (Li 92). It becomes clear from the following symbolic words of the character called Catherine: “I’m afraid of the rain because sometimes I see me dead in it” (Hemingway 114). Thus, the writer pays special attention to the theme of death in his A Farewell to Arms. Count Greffi who is a symbol of clever and experienced individual is asked almost a rhetorical question once: “Would you like to live after death?” (Hemingway 236). Even though the question seems strange, all people think of the given subject at least once in their life. Death theme is both mysterious and frightening, extremely interesting for study, and very ominous if mentioned in an inappropriate moment. Death is not a living thing and does not have any feelings. At the same time, it is powerful enough to take a life of any person regardless of his/her social status, material wellbeing, popularity, and color of skin. It is the entity, which breaks plans, turns dreams into ashes, separates people, and ruins powerful kingdoms. While reading Hemingway’s work, the reader can sense the power death has over a human being. Many close people and friends of the main characters suffer or die, and the reader can sympathize with them as well as remember his/her personal experience.
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Certain characters of A Farewell to Arms show their different attitudes to death and violence. Hemingway highlights his position and interpretation of these issues through the main character Henry:
The world breaks everyone, and afterwards many are strong at the broken places. But those that it will not break it kill. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of those you can be sure that it will kill you too, but there will be no special hurry (Hemingway 73).
The writer clearly shows that the world is the place full of obstacles and problems every person has to face. However, perception and attitudes to these problems differ. Thus, some people suffer and continue living and completing their missions while others get killed no matter how good, gentle or brave they may be. Hence, every person is doomed to end the same way notwithstanding the fact that it might sound sad. There is no cure against death. Furthermore, there is no price, which one can pay to escape it.
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Hemingway’s view of the world as a large-scale battlefield explains his choice of figurative language and literary layout of his works. According to Li, A Farewell to Arms as well as many other books by the writer are full of descriptions of battlefields, struggle, and fights; they contain scenes of cruelty and violence as well as people experiencing sadness and death (92). Thus, because death is such a powerful force, life seems to be defenseless, trivial, and full of sad moments.
Hemingway’s interpretation of death and its impact on human beings is very similar to the interpretation that Don DeLillo offers in his Falling Man. However, it seems that DeLillo’s vision or representation of the theme of death has been put under magnifying glass, and one shrugs while looking at it very closely. It is not the fact that the writer speaks about it or presents details of multiple deaths that make this issue the center of the literary work. It is the anticipation of the terrorist attacks, fear of being watched, and inability to comprehend the cruelty and inevitability of reality that make the reader think of life and death concepts. The main character Keith and his friends cannot eliminate the thoughts related to death and terrorist attacks. For instance, Lianne often realizes that the following thought does not leave her mind: “The whole of existence frightens me” (DeLillo 118). Memories of the dreadful events will always be haunting those who have witnessed or experienced the cold touch of death at least once.
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Similarly to Henry who faced the realization of inevitability of death, DeLillo’s character terrorist Hammad who puts terrorist mission and precious life on the scales had understood that “death is stronger than life” (Delillo 172). Obviously, this realization does not undermine the value of life. At the same time, however, it poses eternal questions, for example, “Why people should die?” In both works, the anticipation of death constructs characters’ fear. The difference is in the causes of this anticipation: in Hemingway’s book, it is war while in DeLillo’s one, it is terrorism and shock it caused among people (Partington 309). Concerning DeLillo’s musings over life and death, the writer clearly identifies the value of life, which stands above everything despite death is stronger: “Every sin of your life is forgiven in the seconds to come” (239). A person who knows that he or she will die soon understands the value of life and concludes that there is nothing more precious. Even sins are forgiven, and their price is life, which is going to be taken.
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It is important to note that the attitude to death or rather its acceptance is what makes these two literary works similar too. Hemingway’s opinion of death bases on human ability to feel awfulness of death and, at the same time, achieve indifference towards it (Li 92). Even though every person will die one day, being prepared to it brings certain internal peace. The interpretation, which the writer provides, helps to show the reader the possibility to ignore unhappiness and worries in the face of death. Such thinking brings a type of moral or spiritual victory (Li 92). DeLillo does not put death aside to wait until it comes naturally and takes one’s life away. However, he looks at the anticipation of death from distant perspective, which is similar to a documentary way of presenting events. According to Partington, the novelist “creates a sensation of numbness and leaves the reader feeling profoundly unsettled.” The reader stays in detached state of mind.
It is interesting that even though the works describe serious devastating and dangerous events, the personalities of characters seem experience positive changes. The events of September 9/11 undoubtedly shocked Keith but his attitude to life and close people changes. He becomes a more responsible and self-aware person. It is clear from the description of the main character who “used to want to fly out of self-awareness” and later “finds himself drifting into spells of reflection” (DeLillo 66). Unlike Keith, Lianne seems to be more emotional; she perceives different external things too personally. Thus, a neighbor who plays Middle Eastern music almost offends her. The effects of the dreadful events on these two people are also different. However, there is a natural and logical explanation of this difference. Personal traits, educational background, and temperaments of individuals vary; thus, they perceive the same things differently. Keith becomes more serious while Lianne seems to turn into a person who is more vulnerable and perceptive to things that surround her.
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Hemingway’s characters tend to become stronger in the face of war and horror. Like the author himself, the characters come to realization that life is very valuable but can be taken away any time (Dow 75). War experience and harsh reality demanded from writers like Hemingway to find the new system of values. Hence, it is necessary to live life to the fullest here and now when there is still time for it. A saying “What does not kill us makes us stronger” characterizes Hemingway’s view of war influence on people. Thus, Frederick Henry perceived his participation in war as his personal responsibility.
Both writers Hemingway and DeLillo presented the views and interpretation of the themes of horror and death and their influence on the individuals in the works A Farewell to Arms and Falling Man respectively. There are many similarities between the ways these two authors tackle the issue of death even though the events they describe are totally different – a war and a terrorist attack. Both of them represent death as an inevitable end of life. However, one cannot measure the value of life since it is the most precious thing every human being has. Only after experiencing or witnessing events like war or the terrorist attack of September 9/11, people start to reevaluate life and become more serious and responsible. Even though death is horrific and inevitable event, there is no need to live in fear and anticipation of the close end. One must try to live a happy life and cherish its every moment. Dreadful events have different impact on the characters: some of them begin to value life more while others fall into a trap of dreadful memories and haunting pictures of war or bombings. It fully depends on personal traits and peculiarities of psychological state of every individual.