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Concept of Nada in 'A Farewell to Arms'


Nada is a Spanish and Portuguese word meaning "nothing", used in English with the same meaning. The concept of Nada constitutes one of the central themes of Hemingway’s novel A Farewell to Arms. In this novel Nada is symbolized by darkness or death. In other words death or darkness suggests the total annihilation expressive of pessimism. Hemingway’s code heroes try to avoid this ‘nada’ or the engulfing pessimism. The Hemingway hero is a restless man, doesn't like the night, often will sleep through the day and stay awake during the night. The darkness of the night represents nothingness, the state in which things will be when one is dead, absolute oblivion. Darkness and sleep must be avoided, for in these states there is nothingness, "nada." Hemingway's discourse on "nada" is his way of exploring the darker side of his spiritual self.

In A Farewell to Arms, Frederick Henry is Hemingway’s code hero, who represents certain images that are often connected with the concept of the code hero. His actions are often identified by certain definite movements or performances. Frederick Henry is often called a restless man. He stays awake all night so as to be with Catherine Barkley, who is on the night shift.
The nada concept had been a part of Henry's life from the beginning. Henry stood up nights because the night is a representation of evil and death to him. If he is not asleep, he can avoid having to deal with it. Henry also is accompanied by Catherine during nights at the Ospidale Maggoire. To Henry there was almost no difference in the night except that is was an even better time with Catherine. Catherine, who is already a code hero, has values which transcend onto Henry at the Hospital.

During the day, Henry sleeps but Catherine has to work, so she stops coming to him on nights. Henry is left to stay up, alone on nights. Also, he does not ask Catherine to come stay with him thus controlling his desires to make love to her. From this point in the book, Henry disciplines himself. During those nights together, they made love and talked. When he first saw Catherine, he was after sexual pleasures from her instead of the prostitutes in Gorizia. He never realized that he was in love untill some time later. Also, when he is in the course of a battle with Manera, Gavuzi and Passini, he began to eat food. Henry enjoys the food he eats, the love he makes and the wine he drinks whenever he pleases to, as a code hero does. Henry showed his loyalty to the individuals and small groups in his life, and near the end of the novel he showed grace under pressure.
Hemingway’s concept of nada will be better understood if we compare Henry with another Hemingway code hero found in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”. Here the hero is a lonely old man. The old, hearing impaired man is a nightly patron at a small caf where he enjoys indulging himself by carefully sipping alcohol as he tries to cope with his loneliness and isolation. His nights are especially lonely for he has no wife. His niece, the one who cut him down after he, in despair, tried to commit suicide, is the only one in his life to care for him. The old man, after realizing life has no meaning for him, enjoys the caf setting because he can be near two waiters who essentially let him alone, get drunk with dignity, and forget he is dying of old age. The old, nihilistic man, craving the well-lighted caf and his saucers of brandy, manages to cope and show grace under pressure, like a true code hero, despite the fact that he knows his life means nothing in this world, and he is soon going to die.

Thus, Hemingway develops his concept of nada through Henry-a restless man.  By restless is meant that he often stays awake at nighttime and sleeps all during the day. The reason for this is that for Henry sleep itself is a type of obliteration of the consciousness. Night is a difficult time for Henry because night-itself the darkness of night- implies, suggests, or symbolizes the utter dark-ness that man will have to face after death. Therefore Henry avoids nighttimes. This will be the time he will drink; this will be the time he will carouse or stay awake. In many novels he will spend the night making love with someone and only at the crack of dawn will he then desire sleep.

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