"A Farewell to Arms" came as late as all the other World War One books (Frederic Manning "Her Privates We", Erich Maria Remarque "All Quiet on the Western Front", Richard Aldington "Death of a Hero", Robert Grave "Goodbye to All That", etc.). In the meantime many things had changed in Ernest Hemingway's life, he was not in love with Sister von Kurowsky any longer and had even divorced Hadley by the time his novel was published. He became father of a boy named Patrick and who was, like Henry's son in the novel, delivered by Cesarean section. The intense labor pains of his second wife Pauline were the inspiration for Catherine's labor in the novel. Interestingly enough, Ernest and Pauline were criss-crossing the USA by that time, maybe Ernest tried to escape his past like Frederic Henry did. Last, but not at all least, his father committed suicide, he shot himself in the head with an old Civil War pistol.
A lot of the novel's characters are based upon real life persons, like Helen Ferguson, who reminds the reader of Kitty Cannell, who "warned Hadley, whom she considered to be a put-upon and long-suffering angel, that her husband was unreliable"(Burgess (9.), p. 40) a number of times as Ferguson did on pages 98 through 99 and 219 through 222, and the priest, who represents Don Giuseppe Bianchi, the priest of the 69th and 70th regiments of the Brigata Ancona. A mystery in its own right is the character Rinaldi who already appeared in "In Our Time".
One of the main themes the novel deals with is the unity of life and death, which is illustrated with a number of striking pictures like the soldiers carrying ammunition boxes, who "marched as though they were gone six months with child"(A Farewell (1.), p. 4), Frederic's flight in a wagon full of guns and Catherine's death in childbirth. The book itself is not a war novel, but, as Anthony Burgess put it, "a complex statement about the nature of human commitment, p.resented against a background of war vividly caught."(Burgess (9.), p. 55). James F. Light's article "The Religion of Death in A Farewell to Arms ", reprinted in "Critiques of Four Major Novels", reaches the same conclusion. Death and the cruelty of war are ever-present, but dwelling below the surface, and rarely erupting into the line of sight of the protagonist.
As a criticism of war Frederic Henry thinks and talks about Napoleon time and time again. By confronting the obsolete and romanticized way of making war with the actual situation, Hemingway intended to show the contrast between the official patriotic propaganda and the harsh reality. With Henry's famous monologue "I was always embarrassed by the words sacred, glorious, and sacrifice [...]"(A Farewell (1.), p. 165), he is able to develop a wordy philosophy. Sacrifice equaled slaughter, the glory and honor they all came for was replaced by a butchery of unknown extent. This is exactly the disillusionment of the Lost Generation, and it led Frederic to stop thinking. It is displayed with a number of other images, too, for example, when he is offered a sword in an armorer's shop, but replies he went back to the front and thus had no need for it, or when Catherine describes her lover's death ("He didn't have a sabre cut. They blew him all to bits"(A Farewell (1.), p. 19)).