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American Fiction

Society seems to play important roles in the betterment of life of an individual.Following paper will briefly highlight the differences in themes of three novels; namely “My Antonia,” by Willa Cather, “The Age of Innocence,” by Edith Wharton, and “A Farewell to Arms” by Ernest Hemingway.Introduction ‘Age of Innocence’ written by Edith Wharton in 1920 is a story emerging from the 1870s surrounding an upper class couple in new York city awaiting marriage.

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Newland Archer, a young lawyer, awaits his marriage with May Welland belonging to one of the riches and best families in New York.

This marriage depends on the choice of bride made by Newland Archer but this choice seems to be doubtful after his interaction with the bride’s cousin, Ellen Olenska, returning from Europe after separation from her husband Count Olenski. Countess has decided to divorce the Count, a rather unacceptable decision for her family. Persuasions are worked on the Countess to make her return to the Count but all in vain. Instead, the interaction between Newland and Ellen grows until as decided by the families, unfortunately, Newland gets married to May.

As Ellen continuously refuses to return to the Count, the Count and her family withhold all financial help and support to the Countess. This novel is based on a story and characters that are surrounded by their societies guiding these characters to do the right thing as ‘required’. Although running from typical societal rules, Newland could get married to Ellen but as the families had already arranged for the marriage of May and Newland, there was no way to refuse to the preplanned marriage and leave May, as families in those times were more terrified about being disgraced.

Thereby assumptions and morals followed in the American society in 1870s are challenged in this novel with no condemnations of these rules and morals whatsoever. American writer Willa Cather wrote ‘My Antonia’ in 1918. This novel is composed of five books. The story encompasses some immigrant families from Nebraska who move to USA to start a new life. Antonia, the main character of the story, is the eldest daughter of a Bohemian family among the other immigrant families. Jim Burden, narrator of the story is the character who falls in love with Antonia.

The five books of this novel highlight the life of Antonia starting from her childhood until getting married and becoming a mother. After a depression based suicide of Antonia’s father, Antonia survives a hard life on the prairie farms of Black Hawk, Nebraska. For the Harlings family in a town nearby, she works as a house cleaner and a cook gaining a reputation of the most beautiful girl in town that upsets the Harlings. Larry Donovan, Antonia’s fiance flees the town before marriage abandoning Antonia pregnant with his child.

Antonia finds a happy life being married to Cuzak having ten children with him on the farms. Jim, on the other hand, is younger than Antonia but is involved in her while Antonia still takes him as a child. Jim attends college and starts studying and after a longer period, still having affection for Antonia in his heart, returns to Black Hawk and finds that she is now a mother of ten children and happily married. All Jim decides to live with now is the memory of Antonia and an affection that he has for her family.

Thereby the main theme of this novel is change and transformations of life. ‘A Farewell to Arms’ was written by Ernest Hemingway in 1929. The story emerges from the period of First World War, surrounding a nurse Catherine Barkley who falls in love with an American soldier Frederic Henry. Cynicism of soldiers and displacement of populations that follow wars have been highlighted in the novel. ‘A Farewell to Arms’ is divided into five books that highlight the life and times of these two people during the war.

These five books have highlighted changes in Henry’s philosophy about life and universe, as Catehrine brings order in his life making him understand the importance of values as morality, dignity, and honor. First book talks about the relationship in its beginning stages. The couple spends some time in Milan in summers, being the topic of second book. Third book highlights Henry returning to the battle unit and killing a sergeant for which he is arrested by the battle police for interrogation, where a possibility of Henry being executed arises which he escapes by jumping into a river.

Fourth book talks about the couple reuniting in Switzerland. The fifth book highlights a quiet peaceful life being lived by the couple until Catherine undergoes hemorrhage during labor of their son that causes her death making Henry accept the sad reality of death making Henry understand the meaning of life, changing his cynical philosophy. Contrast between Three Novels A great contrast exists between three novels. ‘Age of innocence’ written by Edith Wharton talks about the societal rules being followed in New York in 1870s that includes an element of disgrace associated with divorce of a daughter in a family.

Giving up personal desires for saving the honor and respect of one’s family is the main theme of this story. A caring aspect of society has been highlighted in this case where values and morals of a society promise to protect a woman within the secure boundaries of her family. Divorce in late 19th century was considered as a disgrace and an invitation to scandals thought of as a threat to women in their future life. On the other hand, a connection has been built between Antonia and her surrounding society in ‘My Antonia’.

No caring aspect of the society has been highlighted in the story as compared to ‘Age of innocence’. Men that surround Antonia are shown to follow no rules and morals of their society, as it is evident in case of her first fiance fleeing and abandoning Antonia pregnant before marriage, making her face shame in front of the society and her family. Changes take place in Antonia as she faces these tragedies being alone until life blesses her with a husband and ten children giving her a peaceful and a protected life on the farms.

There is no connection between the characters and their society in case of ‘A Farewell to Arms’. The main reason being the background of the novel, as it was written in the time of First World War when the only matter under consideration is saving one’s own self from death. Wars are defined as tragic thereby any story emerging from these times is tragic. The story highlights a tragic love story that sets in the First World War surrounding a soldier who gives up his military career for the fear of death.

Solders think about the universe as being an unordered and an unprotected existence with no God to watch over with no evidence of justice in the surroundings. Morality, dignity, and honor are nowhere to be seen in the surroundings were war takes place. Emphasis is given to the brutality, injustice, and futility that follows the war as Henry escapes his cynical thoughts about the universe being disordered with the help of Catherine. Henry in the novel is shown to have a strong disbelief in God thereby there was no belief in faith having a relationship with life and morality.

A strong atheistic belief existed in Henry and his peers linking it with nil existence of faith thus no morality, justice and no need of moral rules in the society. Henry is shown to understand the meaning of life by the ways he struggles to escape the interrogation and execution in the hands of the police. As the name of the novel indicates, Henry says farewell to not only the arms and his military career by making an escape but also to the cynical philosophy that he held about life.

Understanding that struggles can be a part of life, Henry struggles to reunite with Catherina, although defeat waits in the end. However, all that matters in the end is to realize the meaning of an existence of the universe and a God. Thus, there is no connection of this novel with the other two novels, as the other two novels do not talk about disbelief in the existence of universe and morality. In fact, the characters in the other two novels have been shown to live in a society built around principles of morality.

A strong role has been suggested by the two novels in the lives of its characters but there is no belief in society nor its existence in the case of third novel thereby there is no role of society being played in the betterment of the life of its characters in ‘A Farewell to Arms’. Conclusion There is a prominent contrast in the three novels. First novel ‘Age of Innocence’ talks about shaping an individuals’ life based on rules and regulations that are shaped by a society and families that surrounds him; as these morals promise to protect the individuals.

Second novel talks about the slow transitions that take place in the life of an individual living in a society with individuals not following morality to protect an individual. In the third novel, the main theme is a change in the philosophy of an individual about life and the universe while struggling to reunite with his love while escaping death. Works Cited Johnson, D. Claudia. , and Johnson, Elso, Vernon. The social impact of the novel: a reference guide. USA: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002.

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