Thursday, March 7, 2019
A Strange Thought About A Passage In A Farewell To Arms
Finished it. It’s a tragedy to be sure, and it’s shattering.
But how about this:
Ch 32, first page:
...You did not love the floor of a flat-car nor guns with canvas jackets and the smell of vaselined metal or a canvas that rain leaked through, although it is very fine under a canvas and pleasant with guns; but you loved some one else whom now you knew was not even to be pretended there you seeing now very clearly and coldly—not so coldly as clearly and emptily. You saw emptily, lying on your stomach, having been present when one army moved back and another came forward. You had lost your cars and your men as a floorwalker loses the stock of his department in a fire. There was, however, no insurance. You were out of it now. You had no more obligation. If they shot floorwalkers af- ter a fire in the department store because they spoke with an accent they had always had, then certainly the floorwalkers would not be expected to return when the store opened again for business. They might seek other employment; if there was any other employment and the police did not get them....
An interesting thing in this paragraph is how it can be seen from the angle of the law of contract remedies. A party to a contract breached by the other party can sue for damages but can’t treat the contract as ended and thereby be freed of his own contractual obligations. But if the breach is so material as to go to the heart of the contract and so as to amount to a repudiation of it, then the innocent party has an election:
he can accept the repudiation and treat the contract as an end, sue for damages and be freed of his remaining obligations under it;
or he can elect to keep the contract alive, sue for damages for the breach but then must keep performing his part of the contract.
In this paragraph, Frederic assesses his ended relation to the Italian army, “You were out of it now. You had no more obligation.” This is after he has escaped the interrogation line, where soldiers are arbitrarily plucked out during the retreat, are charged with desertion, kangaroo court marshalled and shot (as a way fixing blame for the army’s need to retreat.) So, unwittingly I’m sure, Hemingway applies this law of contract remedies to life itself. The floorwalkers will be shot for the store fire only for the irrational reason of their accents, not for any thing wrong they’ve done. The floor walkers did what they were supposed to do on the job. And Henry, an American, with men under his command dead, his vehicles lost, has still done all that it was his duty to do but will be blamed and shot regardless. So the store in causing the floorwalkers to be shot has in the most irrational, terrible and fundamental way, by the threat of death itself, forfeited any obligations they have to it: “...then certainly the floorwalkers would not be expected to return when the store opened again for business.” And so the Italian army has in the most irrational, terrible and fundamental way, by the threat of death itself, forfeited any obligation that Henry has to it. As quoted, he obviously has no more obligation to it.