The three novels under consideration were written in the same period. Willa Cather wrote “My Antonia”¯ in 1918.
“The Age of Innocence”¯ was written by Edith Wharton in 1920. The novel by Ernest Hemingway “A Farewell to Arms”¯ was written in the same period, however was printed later in 1929.
These writers like many other suffered the dreadful consequences caused by wars upon people. The authors reflected their own feelings, thoughts and ideas of war in their works. They actually responded to the perceived experience creating the novels that were fragmented as a result of the fragmentation of their own lives, worldviews and perception of the world. Of course, all the events influenced greatly life of the writers themselves; and these consequences were different. Therefore being united by the same theme, all three novels can be contrasted with one another.
“My Antonia”¯ by Willa Cather is considered by many critics to be a modernistic novel that depicted the alienation from society as a result of the processes of industrialization and mechanization. This novel brought its author the status of one of the most popular and celebrated writers who depicted the Post-Civil War America. One of the most fundamental themes of the novel “My Antonia”¯ is relation of human to past. The central narrative of the novel is actually a look into the past. However the main character of the novel Jim Burden avoids saying anything about the past directly, a reader cannot but notice the general atmosphere of melancholy and nostalgia about his childhood in Nebraska. His intention is actually to reestablish connections between his prospective present of a successive lawyer who lives in the New York City and a happy man who spent the years of his youth on the Nebraska prairies. Not only does he constantly return to his motherland because of the memories, but Jim also wants to see a girl he grew up with. He and Antonia Shimerda were good friends. Their relations could have resulted in love and family life, but it did not happen. Still over a period of their whole lives they seek to see each other, having their own lives. Their past seems to possess over them; in fact, the past is much more preferable than the present. While Jim misses his life in Nebraska, Antonia feels the same about her life in Bohemia. However, neither of them has the possibility to return. So, the tone of the novel is rather emotive and even nostalgic; the past cannot be returned. In the same time the past cannot also be changed, no matter that the characters desire to change some details of their past experience. Besides, the past is very personal in the novel. Jim and Antonia never mention any social events of the past. Social conditions are not reflected in the novel; the author deals primarily with people, places, experiences and emotions. This past appears to be unrecoverable. However, by revisiting places dear to his heart, Jim manages to incorporate his past into the present. So the people, who are united by the same past experience are recovered from their past. Actually, Willa Cather reflected all the ideas so greatly, that she is considered to occupy the firm place among American writers on the same level with William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway.
Edith Wharton, the author of “The Age of Innocence”¯ suffered all the chaos of the First World War pretty much. By the time the war ended, she had already been living as an expatriate in Paris for five years. All the sufferings this woman bore could not but reflected in her novel “The Age of Innocence”¯, though in a rather subtle, but effective way.
The novel is set in the New York City of 1870s. The society depicted in it is in some way an antithesis to the society of Europe devastated by the war. This novel bears some similarities with the novel “My Antonia”¯ by Willa Cather. Both of them dwell much upon the past events that are compared with the present ones. However, “The Age of Innocence”¯ depicts the differences between the society of the Old New York and the society of the First World War in a rather dramatic way. The author is in the same time horrified and fascinated by the changes brought by the war. She is fascinated and scared of the chaos and of the freedom the new century brought. Edith Wharton actually compares in the novel her own past with the new life of the 20th century. What also distinguishes this novel from the previous one is that it does not only deal with the past on a personal level. Alongside with the personal experiences of the characters of “The Age of Innocence”¯ the author traces the differences between the past and the present on a historico-anthropological level. Thus, the interest in the sociology of the Old New York gives the novel some additional sense of irony. While the society of the Old Post-Civil War New York thought of themselves as the pinnacle of civilization, Edith Wharton compares their moral values and social behavior similar to the primitive tribes. There is one more point that presents a contrast between this and the previous novel. The characters of “My Antonia”¯ looked back into their past and wanted to return into it. They were not afraid of it and did not fear the changes it brought them. However, things are different in “The Age of Innocence”¯. Archer, the main character of the novel by Wharton, feels sorry for his past. He chose the wrong woman to marry, he was not brave enough to stay with the woman he had felt in love with. His life passes by and he remembers his past with sadness for he did nothing to change it. At last, after twenty five years from the last meeting with the Countess Olenska he does not even have the courage to meet her again. He prefers to hide in order not to face the real life. He prefers to live with his memories of the past.
What unites the novel “A Farewell to Arms”¯ by Ernest Hemingway with the previous ones, is the main theme: the grim reality of the First World War. However, what differentiates this novel from two previous ones, is that all the events and the vision of the war and of people is completely different. Ernest Hemingway does not hide from the realities of the war. He depicts it rather vividly with bloody and tragic details. Having participated in the war his idea is not to pretend that it is in the past, but to decide how to live with it and how to make the future life better. Having suffered a lot, the main character of the novel “A Farewell to Arms”¯ Henry meets a girl whom he falls in love with.
Henry and Catherine agree to put the war behind them forever and start a new life. In fact, they succeed in leaving a peaceful beautiful life, except of the fact that later Catherine dies giving life to their child. Still both people intended to make the war their past. But they do not reject this past, they accept that it is present in their life and what they can only do is to live further. This is what happens. Frederic Henry removes himself from the war and leaves it behind. Nevertheless, the novel does not condemn the war. Ernest Hemingway suggests that the essence of war is murderous and dark extension of the world that does nothing more but refuses to protect, acknowledge or preserve the true love that appears not only in times of peace, but in times of wars too.
These three novels written by different authors in the same period reflect all the dreadfulness of wartime, when people have to reject their own desires, inclinations and intentions in the name of the more important goal. Some people can do it, others cannot and thus die, either physically or morally. All three authors depicted the tragic stories of people who were unhappy to live in the time of war. In spite of all the differences among the novels, all of them represent life of the whole post-war generations with various stories of certain people.