The movies War Horse and Hugo; the Emmy award-winning TV series Downton Abbey have all created renewed interest in World War I, 1914 to 1918, bringing it back to center stage.
One of the most well-known stories from World War I is a fictional story, “Farewell to Arms,” written by Ernest Hemingway.
Young Ernest was greatly influenced by his uncle a travelling salesman with an eye for the ladies. He would stay at Ernest’s parents house while in town and recounts stories of his travels. The family would go hunting and fishing at their house in Petoskey, Michigan. Ernest had a desire to see the world.
With all the renewed interest in WWI, I decided to read Ernest Hemingway’s semi-autobiographical novel, “A Farwell to Arms,” based on his military service as an ambulance driver in Italy during World War I. The story was his first literary hit. It began to establish what was known as his style of writing–sparse with realism.
In the novel the main character say,”I’m not brave any more darling. I’m all broken. They’ve broken me.” In fact, Hemingway was writing about himself. He was seriously injured during a skirmish, his legs sustained damage. He returned to his parents home in Oak Park to heal. The experience shaped him as a writer.
I wanted to learn more about this era, and a war. I visited the First Division Museum in Illinois. I thought I could gain insight into experiences that Hemingway wrote about it the book. I wanted to separate fact from fiction of what was shown in the movies and TV series.
The interactive exhibits with videos and audio in the museum cover WWI, interwar, WWI, Cold War, Vietnam and Desert Storm.
In the main gallery, there is a collection of uniformed soldiers with equipment from the Revolutionary War, Civil War, Spanish Civil War and World War I. The uniforms and equipment really varied from war to war.
The museum’s exhibits were designed to resemble real locations from the time periods–a foxhole, a bombed village, Higgins boats used at Normandy–to convey a what its was like for the soldiers, sailors and airmen. They also gave me a sense of what it must have been like for the people who lived there and lived through it.
In one exhibit, I picked up the portable army phone and listened to a solider talk to me. I watched a video in a set resembling a boat that would land on a beach.
After going through all the exhibits, I walked away with more of an understanding about what Hemingway wrote about and the enormity of war.