The Grey

So during class today we wrote on the board “war profits” as a major topic in the text, but I feel like we didn’t go into it in A Farewell to Arms as much as we did others. That being said, I couldn’t help myself from being a total reject of a student during my sociology class and only thinking about the questions I had about it.

I think one of the reasons I like this book particularly more than the others we’ve read this semester is because Hemingway does a fantastic job of writing the grey. Frederic Henry is a grey character. He joined the war because he happened to be in Italy and he happened to speak Italian and he shows no real commitment or tie to anything. He is neither black nor white because he doesn’t feel a strong connection to any real part of the war or any consequence thereof and it was this realization that got me thinking.

The other characters in the text bring up the question of who profits from the war and we don’t get a strong response from Henry. In fact, he is one of the first people in the books we’ve read this semester that hasn’t really explained to us either his patriotism or nationalism (for all the confusion the pair offers). This is nothing short of puzzling to me.

Logically, America would’ve been one of the few nations to have profited off of the war. They entered the fighting late which must’ve already saved the American people a lot of money, but on top of that, they’ve had to have supplied some type of weaponry or finances to the countries at war or it would’ve risked jeopardizing previous alliances. So while these men are discussing in front of Henry’s character the idea that someone profits, I wonder if Henry was considering the profit his own nation gained or if he was simply being blissfully ignorant?

I think one of the most dangerous things we see in either of the world wars is this conflation of patriotism and nationalism and Hemingway’s decision to write Henry as a character who is either blissfully ignorant or completely and totally unwilling to acknowledge the threat of his own country to the lives of other people is both (if intentional) masterful and disheartening…or perhaps I’m just reading into things a little too much…

180 thoughts on “The Grey

  1. I also thought it was interesting how Henry was in the grey concerning his family. With Smith, we get this passionate response where Nellie is so frustrated and angry about how her mother is responding to/contributing to the war. For Paul, we again get this strong imagery of his family and their influence. However, we don’t see much of Henry’s family, his past relationship, his hometown, or even a strong commentary about the US. We know he writes to family and there is mention of a grandfather’s (loaning?) money, but everything is kind of murky.

  2. The thought of who profits from the war has always been something that intrigued me and I like that we have seen this in every single one of the works we have read for this class. The men serving with Paul in “All Quiet” question why they are there, what are they getting from it, what if those with power were the ones to fight in a ring and whoever survives win. Even Nellie questions why the war is happening and why they are there and who is benefiting. This idea of benefit and worth is very repetitive in our course and I think it is becoming a super important theme. I think because of how often this question is raised in all of these texts that it was a question that majority of the people serving in some way were wondering. We all know that it is those who are already in “control” and powerful are the ones profiting and it is those below them that they are willing to lose and sacrifice. The death of these soldiers and the destruction of everyone involved in the war front in any form is completely worth it to those who are already in power because they aren’t losing anything.

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