A Farewell to Arms

A Farewell to Arms​ - ein Englisch Referat

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Ernest Hemingway, the author and his times -the plot, characters, style, content





Ernest Hemingway once gave some advice to his fellow writer F. Scott Fitzgerald. If something in life hurts you, he said, you should use it in your writing. In A Farewell to Arms Hemingway followed his own advice. The painful experiences of his own life that, consciously and unconsciously, he placed in this novel help make it a major artistic achievement.

The first of these experiences was a physical „hurt“ that occurred on July 8, 1918. On this date, two weeks shy of his nineteenth birthday, Hemingway lay in an Italian army aid station, his legs riddled by shrapnel and machine-gun bullets.

The story of how he got there goes like this. By 1917 the United States had entered World War I, which had begun three years earlier. Although Hemingway was old enough to be in the service, his bad eyesight made him ineligible. (Characteristically, he later bragged that his vision had been hurt in boxing matches with dirty fighters. Actually, the damage was congenital.) But bad eyes or no, Hemingway had an urge to go to war. He wrote his sister, „…I’ll make it to Europe some way in spite of this optic.“

Make it he did by joining the Red Cross as an ambulance driver. He was sent to the mountains of northern Italy where the Italians, allied with England, France, and the U.S., were fighting the Austrians, allied with Germany.

Ambulance driving was too tame for him, and when a chance came to get closer to the action, he grabbed it. The Red Cross, concerned about the welfare of front-line troops, set up emergency canteens close to the battle lines. Hemingway eagerly volunteered to man a forward post. His job was to dispense chocolate and cigarettes. Or, as he wrote, „Each aft and morning I load up a haversack and take my tin lid and gas mask and beat it up to the trenches. I sure have a good time.“

It was on one of these „good time“ trips that he was struck in the legs by an Austrian shrapnel burst. Near him lay a screaming man, gravely wounded. Despite his own injuries, Hemingway hoisted the man and took off for the command post to the rear. He had gone partway when he took two machine-gun rounds, one in the knee, the other in the foot. He fell, but he got up again and staggered to the post, still carrying the Italian soldier. He was treated and evacuated to a hospital.

Hemingway obviously draws on this experience to create Frederic Henry’s fictional wounding in Farewell. His suffering enabled him to describe Frederic’s with telling physical detail. But his literary use of the wounding goes deeper than the merely physical. For while Hemingway superficially recovered from his wounds, psychically he seems never to have gotten over them. His view of the world was permanently darkened by his youthful brush with death. Twenty-four years later in World War II he spoke about it himself. „I was an awful dope when I went to the last war,“ he said. „I can remember just thinking that we were the home team and the Austrians were the visiting team.“ He learned that the game had neither referees nor rules, and concluded that the only admirable way to play was to take whatever came along with tight-lipped stoicism.

And there you have the essence of the Hemingway hero. Although his name changes from novel to novel, he remains basically the same person. He is often wounded: Henry in Farewell, Jake Barnes in The Sun Also Rises, and Nick Adams in the stories of In Our Time. He invariably lives in a violent world: Henry in World War I, Barnes in the ritual violence of the bull-ring, and Robert Jordan (For Whom the Bell Tolls) in the Spanish Civil War. Most important, the hero, in public anyway, bears his miseries well. In private, at night, it’s often another story.

The second pain that Hemingway used in his writing was an emotional hurt, a faded love affair. This, too, related directly to Farewell.

When he was recovering from his wounds in a Milan hospital, he was one of but four patients tended by eighteen nurses. One of these was a pretty American, Hannah Agnes von Kurowsky. Hemingway fell for her and, in a way, she for him. But she was seven years older than he, and she was also a dedicated nurse. Although they went out together and exchanged love notes, their affair never went beyond what his biographer calls „the kissing stage.“ Hemingway, though, seems to have had every intention of marrying her, taking her home, and getting a job and settling down. Agnes thought otherwise.

So he sailed and she stayed. She wrote from Europe, hinting that it would be better to let things die. Later she was blunt. She had fallen in love with an Italian; she wished Hemingway well, but it was over.

He blew up. He wrote to another nurse that if Agnes sailed back he hoped she’d fall down the gangway and knock her teeth out. Later he boasted that he had „cauterized“ her memory with „booze and other womens.“ That’s doubtful. The hurt was too deep. We know that he kept Agnes’s letters all his life. We know that he had three failed marriages. We also know that the women in his novels, notably Catherine Barkley in Farewell, are his least successful characters. They seem idealized, too sexually compliant–perhaps what, as a nineteen-year-old, he envisioned Agnes would have been if she hadn’t „gypped“ him and fallen in love with someone else.

The third hurt was a social one–alienation from his family. It had been building for some time but it came to a head shortly after the breakup of his love affair. The break, when it came, was lasting.

Hemingway’s parents were God-fearing Christians and patriotic Americans, staunch upholders of middle-class values. Hemingway thought them boring. He went out of his way to do things counter to his mother’s wishes. She gave him cello lessons; he set up a boxing ring in her music room.

And after he tasted European civilization on his short tour of duty in the war there was no holding him back. He came home, but not to stay, choosing to live instead in other countries. From 1921 to 1924 he was a European correspondent for the Toronto Star. In 1924 he quit his job to live in Paris and concentrate on his own writing. And though he remained unmistakably American in outlook, he spent much of his life living and traveling abroad, in Europe, Africa, the Caribbean.

His characters, too, are usually far from home. They have no families or else they have family troubles. Henry in Farewell sends only cryptic postcards to his family, and speaks of a home full of quarrels.

The fourth hurt–a literary hurt, if there can be such a thing–stemmed from an accident that forced Hemingway to reappraise his early writing and transform it into the influential and finely crafted art for which he is so well known.

Typically, this accident happened when he was traveling. In November 1922 he was covering a diplomatic conference as a journalist. He finished, and notified Hadley, his first wife, to meet him for a short vacation. Thinking she was doing him a favor, she stuffed all his manuscripts in a suitcase so that he could work on them. She put the suitcase down for a minute in a train station, and somebody snatched it. In it was the manuscript of a long story about an ambulance driver in Italy in World War I, a nascent Farewell to Arms. We’ll never know how good a story it was, but indications are that its language was a great deal more flowery and juvenile than the clipped and polished prose that constitutes the novel. What would have happened to Hemingway’s writing if he hadn’t been forced to start from scratch, we’ll never know. We do know that he used this seemingly unfortunate accident to his advantage. He developed a spare, hard-hitting style that was a break with the decorative writing of the past.

That style found an eager audience. Published in 1929, A Farewell to Arms was one of the first in a series of works that for thirty years would make Hemingway the very image of the successful American writer. (Two of his earlier books had met with widespread critical approval–his group of stories, In Our Time, Published in 1925, and his second novel, The Sun Also Rises, published in 1926. His first novel, The Torrents of Spring, is generally considered a failure.) Three years after Farewell came the publication of a book inspired by Hemingway’s love of Spain and bullfighting, Death in the Afternoon. Winner Take Nothing was published in 1933; The Green Hills of Africa in 1935; and To Have and Have Not in 1937. During the Spanish Civil War he worked as a war correspondent, an experience that he mined for his 1940 novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and he served as a correspondent again during World War II. The novel that resulted from that service, Across the River and into the Trees, was not well received. In 1952 he published The Old Man and the Sea, which helped earn him the Nobel Prize for Literature two years later. The prize cited, among other things, his „style-making mastery of the art of modern narration.“

Unfortunately, in a life like Hemingway’s, the hurts pile up. While he was able to turn them to some advantage as a writer, the sum of their influences on him as a man was destructive.

In the first place, life dealt him numerous physical blows even after the war. Though he loved sports, particularly boxing, he was at best a mediocre athlete, clumsy and, when he wasn’t challenging someone smaller or less experienced than himself, easy to hit. He seemed accident-prone. In 1954 newspapers around the world reported him dead after two airplane crashes in as many days. He survived to laugh at the reports, but the accidents left him with serious injuries.

Too, some deeper psychological wound seemed to drive him to cover up feelings of inadequacy, sexual or otherwise, with boasts about his prowess as a writer and as a man. Some of his tales are so patently false as to be ridiculous. He claimed, for instance, to have been the lover of Mata Hari, the famous spy of World War I, even recording his account of the liaison for Caedmon Records, although by the time Hemingway first arrived in Europe in 1918, Mata Hari had been dead for a year. The same transparent falseness afflicts his story of his supposed derring-do with the Italian infantry. His posing grew embarrassingly more frequent as he grew older, diminishing the personality as the physical injuries diminished the body.

On July 2, 1961, he shot himself to death in his home in Ketchum, Idaho. What remains are his writings, the products of an adventurous and perhaps anguished life, testaments to the talent of a skilled literary artist.


Frederic Henry is a young American studying in Italy when World War I breaks out. He volunteers as an army ambulance driver. He is commissioned sotto-tenente (2nd lieutenant), and sent to the northern mountains where Italy is fighting Austria.

In the fall of 1916 the snows come early and the Italians put off any more attacks until next year. Henry is given leave. The chaplain urges him to visit his family who live in the country, but Henry goes instead to Rome and Naples, where he drinks and chases women. He returns from leave dissatisfied and guilty over squandering his time and money.

Henry learns from his roommate, Rinaldi, that British nurses are now stationed in the area hospital and that Rinaldi has his eye on one, an English woman named Catherine Barkley. Rinaldi drags Henry along to visit the nurses. Catherine and Henry are instantly attracted to each other. Rinaldi is mildly put out, but he recovers.

When not driving an ambulance, Henry calls on Catherine. He considers their relationship a wartime flirtation, a little better than making love to one of the girls at the Villa Rossa, the officers‘ brothel, but hardly anything more permanent. He does, however, admit to himself that he felt „lonely and hollow“ one time when he got drunk, and missed seeing her.

Catherine’s attitude is more complex. She seems to want affection, but is vulnerable because the previous year an English boy she had been engaged to was „blown all to bits“ in France. She encourages Henry, and just before he goes to the front she gives him a St. Anthony medal for protection.

At the front, the Italian offensive begins. Henry and four drivers take shelter in a dugout that comes under Austrian bombardment. A canister shell hits. Henry’s legs are severely wounded. He tries to help a stricken driver only to have the man die before the bleeding can be stopped. The other drivers, less severely wounded, carry Henry from the dugout. He’s taken to an aid station and then to an army hospital.

Rinaldi and the chaplain visit him. He hears the good news that he’ll be moved to an American hospital in Milan and that Catherine has been transferred there.

In Milan Henry convalesces. And when Catherine visits him, he realizes the minute she walks into the room that he loves her. She volunteers for night duty so that they can spend their nights together.

Henry’s surgery is a success and before long they can go out to restaurants, take carriage rides, and go to horse races. Henry wants to marry her, but Catherine refuses. „How could we be any more married?“ she asks.

His recovery almost complete, Henry plans convalescent leave with Catherine. Then one night Catherine tells him she’s pregnant.

The next day he wakes up sick and is diagnosed as having jaundice. His head nurse assumes that he’s brought it on himself by drinking too much in order to avoid front-line duty, and she reports him. His leave is denied and he is ordered to report to the front as soon as he is well enough.

Frederic Henry returns to war. By now things are going badly for Italy. German troops have reinforced the Austrians; they defeat the Italians, forcing a full-scale retreat. What begins as an orderly withdrawal soon becomes chaos. Henry drives his ambulance away from the advancing Germans until the road clogs.

Deciding to circle around the stalled column, he cuts out of line and takes a side road. The ambulance gets stuck in mud. He and the other drivers he’s been transporting abandon the vehicle and walk to safety. During their flight they barely manage to avoid patrolling Germans. Later, one of Henry’s group is killed by an Italian sniper and another runs off to surrender.

Henry and the remaining men rejoin the main column. Finally, at a bridge across the swollen Tagliamento River, the retreat slows. On the other side of the bridge a group of carabinieri (Italian MPs) are arresting higher-ranking officers, giving them summary trials, and shooting them for desertion. Even though he’s only a tenente, Henry, because he speaks accented Italian, is seized as a German infiltrator. He breaks free and leaps into the river. Hanging onto a log, he is swept downstream out of firing range. He struggles to shore. He hikes across the Venetian plain and hops a freight to Milan. Back at the hospital he finds out that Catherine is on leave in Stresa, a lakeside town near the Swiss border.

Having decided to desert, Henry borrows civilian clothes and goes to Stresa and meets Catherine. The bartender in their hotel warns him that he’s to be arrested and offers a boat so that they can escape across the lake to neutral Switzerland.

Henry rows all night. Eventually, evading Italian patrols, they get to Switzerland. They’re arrested but let go when the police find that they have valid passports and plenty of money.

They find rooms at a mountain inn and spend an idyllic time waiting for the birth of Catherine’s baby. They hike, read, and talk about what they’ll do after the war. When her pregnancy nears its end, they move to Lausanne to be near a hospital.

Catherine has a long and difficult labor. Her doctor resorts to anesthesia. After she suffers for hours, he decides on a cesarean. The baby is delivered dead.

Henry visits Catherine. The nurse tells him, „Mrs. Henry is very ill.“ Catherine has had „one hemorrhage after another,“ and there’s no hope. He watches her die. He tries to say good-bye to the dead body but realizes it’s like talking to a statue. He leaves and walks back to the hotel in the rain.


Hemingway gives few facts about his hero. Henry is young (exactly how young you don’t know), American, a student of architecture, and apparently without strong family ties. His grandfather, who regularly sends him money, seems to be the only relative he keeps in touch with. The rest of what you learn about him has to come from observing how he acts and reacts.

Henry’s a good example of the developing character. When you first see him, he’s an aimless kid out for an adventure. He’s casually joined the Italian ambulance corps, mostly out of curiosity, and he throws himself into the rough, rootless military routine. He jokes, he drinks, he whores. Excited by this existence, he sees it as a glamorous if somewhat nasty antidote to an ordinary American peacetime life.

He does show some glimmers of another, more sensitive side to his personality. For example, in Chapter 2, when the other officers tease their priest, Henry feels sympathy for the man. But even though he doesn’t join their cruel humor, he does nothing to stop them.

Even his relations with Catherine, the woman he eventually comes to love deeply, start in an atmosphere of indifference. Rinaldi, remember, has to drag him along to meet the British nurses. And even when he meets her, he first thinks of her only as a possible sexual conquest.

As the story progresses and Henry comes face to face with realities–of war, of death, of love–he changes. By the time he’s caught in the massive, chaotic retreat later in the book, he’s learned a lot. He stops parroting the official party line, defending the army and the war; he comes to distrust authority. Army life, once adventurous, is now absurd and dangerous. Having no stake in the war, he leaves it. „It was not my show any more,“ he reasons.

And in his relationships with other people, he realizes that human beings need each other, that superficial relationships are just that. He regrets having to leave Rinaldi and the priest but takes comfort in having Catherine and in being able to escape the war and build a new life with her. Tragically, destiny won’t allow him that opportunity. Bereft, he ends up as an empty cynic who takes life as well as he can; that’s all.

Henry has come a long way from the young man who joined a foreign army because he had nothing better to do.


She’s an English volunteer nurse’s aide. As with Henry, Hemingway gives you little of her background. She, too, is young, but how young we aren’t told. She seems to be from a good family, although she seldom mentions it. Prior to coming to Italy she had been engaged to a British soldier, but he was killed. When you first see her, she is, in her own words, „a little crazy“ from the shock.

If she’s a developing character–and many readers don’t see her this way–she’s a different sort of one than Henry. Her development has taken place before you see her. Back when she was engaged to her Englishman, she was still holding onto a staid, Victorian morality. She decided to wait to marry her fiance until after the war. She did not sleep with him. Then he’s killed. And it is this shock that unnerves her. It makes her dismiss conventional morality. „He could have had anything he wanted if I would have known,“ she says of her fiance now. And it makes her resigned about the war. „We’ll crack,“ she says matter-of-factly, assessing the chances of the Allies, and perhaps of herself and Frederic Henry as well. So, although Catherine has undergone change, it has taken place before the book begins; she develops little in the course of the novel. At her death in Chapter 41 she is the same woman we met in the garden in Chapter 4.

Those readers who see her as an incomplete character point out that she’s too beautiful, too submissive, to be true. „You see, I do whatever you want,“ she tells Henry, playing the part of the perfect adolescent sex object, the dream girl with few notions in her head except how to please her lover.

But there is genuine disagreement. You have to make up your own mind, using the text to support your interpretation.

One thing about Catherine is certain: she dies bravely, with the proper Hemingway stoicism. „I’m going to die,“ she says. „I’m not afraid. It’s just a dirty trick.“


He’s an admirable character, taking the officers‘ teasing with dignity, earning Henry’s respect. His goal in life is to return home after the war, live in his simple, rural district, love God and serve Him.


Henry’s roommate, a surgeon, prompts mixed reactions. You can admire him for his skills: „I never hurt anybody. I learn how to do it,“ he says. You can condemn him for his excessive drinking and carousing at the brothel. But ultimately you can feel sorry for him. The war has hurt Rinaldi. He knocks himself out trying to undo the damage the war has done. The only human connection he’s able to make is with Henry, and when Henry deserts, he is denied even that. At the end he’s pathetic, near a crack-up, and treating himself for syphilis he fears he’s picked up at the Villa Rossa.


Catherine’s friend is a spokeswoman for conformity and the conventional life. She deplores the fact that Henry has gotten her good friend in trouble but seems at the same time envious of their love.


The gap between humanity’s noble words and its ignoble deeds was never more apparent than during World War I. For this reason the war serves brilliantly as the setting for Hemingway’s novel of love and disillusionment, A Farewell to Arms.

The war began with the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary and his wife. Soon sides were drawn–France, Great Britain, Italy, Russia, and (three years later) the United States against Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Turkey. Poets and propagandists screamed of the necessity of sending young men to fight. Though the major powers had spent years and millions of dollars building their arsenals, both sides seemed strangely confident that victory would be quick and painless. No one was prepared for the enormous brutality of modern warfare: Catherine Barkley was undoubtedly not the only person who hoped and half-believed that all that could happen to her loved one would be a picturesque, minor wound, perhaps a saber cut.

Instead, her fiance was blown „all to bits.“ And far from ending within weeks, the war dragged on for four years. The human cost was enormous: Great Britain saw three quarters of a million of her men die; Germany and France a million each; Russia perhaps as many as all the other combatants combined. Even the United States, late to enter the war, lost eighty-eight thousand. For this reason, the „war-disgust“ Frederic Henry mentions to the priest was felt not just by him but by an entire generation. In the face of such brutality, values weaken. Life becomes „a dirty trick.“

Hemingway’s choice of Italy as his setting reinforces his theme. One reason for its effectiveness is that Italy was where he served as an ambulance driver: he knew its terrain, and its military history, very well. But Italy is also a setting that further demonstrates the ironies of war. To most of the world, France was where the real war was taking place; even today our memories of World War I are drawn mainly from the Western front: the Somme, Belleau Wood, Verdun. Italy was, as Henry says, „the picturesque front.“ Yet in this picturesque land men are being slaughtered by the tens of thousands.

To Hemingway the war was a botch, cheerfully begun by men with romantic notions of glory and honor, but fought with ruthless, mechanized cruelty. And to the end, as soldiers groveled in foul trenches their leaders, safely away from the front, told tales of valor, patriotism, and duty. Small wonder that many who fought became cynical and disillusioned.

What better time and place could serve for Frederic Henry’s farewell to arms?


The following are some of the major themes of A Farewell to Arms.


A Farewell to Arms is a love story. One of Hemingway’s thematic purposes is to show how, even in a world wracked by war, love can bloom between two people. Yet love has its limits. Just as Frederic Henry feels „trapped biologically“ by Catherine’s pregnancy, so love is trapped by mortality: it ends at Catherine’s death.


Hand in hand with his love story, Hemingway gives us a treatise on war. He asks and answers some questions: What is heroism? What happens to a man’s ideals and morals under the stress of war? How far should one’s loyalties go?


A Farewell to Arms is a study of the things people can and do believe in during times of war. When the world is dizzied by fighting, what values can people hold? Hemingway shows different possibilities through his different characters. Some are able to maintain the ideals of a world at peace. Others try to cling to those ideals but experience only frustration and tragedy. Some seem to have no values left and resort to a life of the senses. Other fluctuate. When you read this novel and the chapter-by-chapter discussion in this guide, you will be able to classify the characters by their values and by the way the war has affected them.


This is perhaps the most important theme, and Frederic Henry illustrates it best. At the start he is an innocent who goes to war for no good reason except perhaps a naive search for excitement. Experience transforms him into a cynic who has tasted glory and found it bitter. He deserts what has become a meaningless war for the most powerful personal motives: his brush with death and his love for Catherine. The irony is that in the end even this love can’t triumph over fate to give meaning to his life. In a world like ours, no values can be permanent. At the end, with Catherine’s death, he is left empty and disillusioned.


Critics usually describe Hemingway’s style as simple, spare, and journalistic.

These are all good words; they all apply. Perhaps because of his training as a newspaperman, Hemingway is a master of the declarative, subject-verb-object sentence. His writing has been likened to a boxer’s punches–combinations of lefts and rights coming at you without pause. Take the following passage:

We were all cooked. The thing was not to recognize it. The last country to realize they were cooked would win the war. We had another drink. Was I on somebody’s staff? No. He was. It was all balls.

The style gains power because it is so full of sensory detail.

There was an inn in the trees at the Bains de l’Allaiz where the woodcutters stopped to drink, and we sat inside warmed by the stove and drank hot red wine with spices and lemon in it. They called it gluhwein and it was a good thing to warm you and to celebrate with. The inn was dark and smoky inside and afterward when you went out the cold air came sharply into your lungs and numbed the edge of your nose as you inhaled.

The simplicity and the sensory richness flow directly from Hemingway’s–and his characters‘–beliefs. The punchy, vivid language has the immediacy of a news bulletin: these are facts, Hemingway is telling us, and they can’t be ignored. And just as Frederic Henry comes to distrust abstractions like „patriotism,“ so does Hemingway distrust them. Instead he seeks the concrete, the tangible: hot red wine with spices, cold air that numbs your nose. A simple „good“ becomes higher praise than another writer’s string of decorative adjectives.

Though Hemingway is best known for the tough simplicity of style seen in the first passage cited above, if you take a close look at A Farewell to Arms, you will often find another Hemingway at work–a writer who is aiming for certain complex effects, who is experimenting with language, and who is often self-consciously manipulating words. Some sentences are clause-filled and eighty or more words long. Take for example the description in Chapter 1 that begins, „There were mists over the river and clouds on the mountain“; it paints an entire dreary wartime autumn and foreshadows the deaths not only of many of the soldiers but of Catherine.

Hemingway’s style changes, too, when it reflects his characters‘ changing states of mind. Writing from Frederic Henry’s point of view, he sometimes uses a modified stream-of-consciousness technique, a method for spilling out on paper the inner thoughts of a character. Usually Henry’s thoughts are choppy, staccato, but when he becomes drunk the language does too, as in the passage in Chapter 3:

I had gone to no such place but to the smoke of cafes and nights when the room whirled and you needed to look at the wall to make it stop, nights in bed, drunk, when you knew that that was all there was, and the strange excitement of waking and not knowing who it was with you, and the world all unreal in the dark and so exciting that you must resume again unknowing and not caring in the night, sure that this was all and all and all and not caring.

The rhythm, the repetition, have you reeling with Henry.

Thus, Hemingway’s prose is in fact an instrument finely tuned to reflect his characters and their world. As you read A Farewell to Arms, try to understand the thoughts and feelings Hemingway seeks to inspire in you by the way he uses language.


Literary critics call the point of view employed by Hemingway in A Farewell to Arms limited, first-person narrator/participant. This means that he writes from the point of view of one of the characters in the story (in this case, Frederic Henry), and that the character tells you only what he himself sees, hears, feels, and thinks, never reporting scenes in which he wasn’t involved, never entering other characters‘ minds.

Perhaps the greatest advantage of this narrative method is that it gives you a tremendous sense of involvement with the story. Seeing everything through the eyes of an active narrator lets you participate in the events almost as intensely as he does. This stance, coupled with Hemingway’s vivid prose, makes it hard not to feel that you are sharing Frederic Henry’s wartime trials: you are there when the shell strikes the dugout, on the brutal retreat from Caporetto, in the boat gliding over the dark waters of Lake Maggiore, and, most bitterly, in the hospital room where Catherine Barkley lies dying. And having shared these trials you are in a position to share more completely the changes they bring: you feel firsthand Frederic Henry’s transformation from the callow boy to the mature lover and then to the disillusioned, tragic figure of the book’s end. By this wise choice of point of view, Hemingway has made sure that his theme–the pain that is the fate of even the best and bravest of us–strikes us with great force.


Hemingway once called A Farewell to Arms his Romeo and Juliet.

The resemblance goes deeper than the fact that both tell tragic love stories. Both works are constructed along the same lines. A Shakespearean tragedy has five acts that work out the plot in a standard pattern: 1. introduction; 2. complication; 3. climax; 4. resolution; 5. conclusion. As the acts progress toward the conclusion, they get shorter, the fifth often being half the length of the first. Additionally, each act is divided into a number of scenes. The scenes are usually short. Very often they are like miniature stories, the sum of all the stories making up the entire play.

Hemingway builds his novel in much the same way. It consists of five books, arranged in the same introduction-to-conclusion pattern. Book I introduces us to the major characters and to the book’s setting, war-torn Italy. Book II provides complications in the form of Frederic’s growing love for Catherine, his wounding, and her pregnancy. The climax of the novel comes in Book III, when the disastrous retreat at Caporetto and his near-execution by the carabinieri completely change Henry’s attitude toward the war. Book IV achieves a seemingly happy resolution as the lovers escape to Switzerland; but like Romeo and Juliet, the story concludes in tragedy in Book V.

Book I goes on for twelve chapters, Book V for only three. Most of the chapters, moreover, have what can be called a dramatic structure. Typically, a chapter will open with the establishment of the setting, frequently a short description. Then the actors arrive. Their conversation often points toward a revelation of character, a promise of action. Finally there is a conclusion, often a terse statement. For example, „Let’s not think about anything.“ „All right.“ in Chapter 34 sums up the entire scene.


Frederic Henry in A Farewell to Arms shares a number of traits with the heroes of other Hemingway books: Nick Adams of In Our Time, Jake Barnes of The Sun Also Rises, and Robert Jordan of For Whom the Bell Tolls. Because all these characters seem to have come from the same mold, they have been merged by some critics into a single Hemingway hero, and the ideals they try to live by have been seen as a sort of Hemingway heroic code. Indeed, because Hemingway’s own life of soldiering, journalism, travel, and big game hunting seems so close to the lives of his heroes, he himself has been seen as a follower–and, in the end, with his suicide, perhaps a victim–of that code.

Why was such a code necessary? Because in Hemingway’s world, a world still shuddering in the aftermath of a brutal war, the old values–faith in family, in country, in a just and loving God–had been irreparably shattered. In such a world, wrote one critic, only a rigid code of behavior „makes a man a man and distinguishes him from the people who follow random impulses, let down their hair, and are generally messy, perhaps cowardly, without inviolable rules for how to live holding tight.“

What exactly are these rules? For one thing, though inviolable they are generally unspoken. Henry had lost all faith in spoken moralities, at least in those pronounced by the leaders of his day. As he says, „I was always embarrassed by the words sacred, glorious, and sacrifice and the expression in vain…. I had seen nothing sacred, and the things that were glorious had no glory and the sacrifices were like the stockyards at Chicago if nothing was done with the meat except to bury it.“ What has value is not the high-flown and the abstract, but the concrete, the tangible, the sensual: the names of places where battles were fought, a landscape with blooming orchards, snowy mountains, clear-running streams; a hearty meal with good wine.

Hemingway’s heroes also place much faith in the ability to do a job well. Notice how, in A Farewell to Arms, all of the characters Henry and Hemingway admire–Rinaldi, the British ambulance driver, Nurse Gage, the surgeon Valentini–are efficient and professional even in the worst of circumstances.

More importantly, Hemingway’s heroes and heroines are marked by stoicism–a term taken from Greek philosophy, describing the belief that no matter how much life makes you suffer you must never show that suffering. Many of Hemingway’s heroes–Nick Adams, Jake Barnes, and of course Frederic Henry–endure war wounds so severe they will in some way never recover from them. Yet in public they all present consistently brave faces. As the French writer Andre Maurois noted, Hemingway’s „entire morality is based on the manner in which one behaves in the presence of death.“ Catherine Barkley is the epitome of the Hemingway heroine because, dying in childbirth, she casually tells Frederic Henry, „Don’t worry, darling. I’m not afraid. It’s just a dirty trick.“

The world of Hemingway’s heroes, despite its glowing moments of love and beauty, is a cruel one. As Frederic Henry says with such bitter eloquence at the end of A Farewell to Arms, „You did not know what it was about. You never had time to learn. They threw you in and told you the rules and the first time they caught you off base they killed you… They killed you in the end. You could count on that. Stay around and they would kill you.“ In the face of such certainties, only by holding onto a rigidly honorable code of behavior can men and women find even brief moments of meaning and happiness.


Hemingway begins his story of war with a seemingly peaceful portrait of an Italian village in the summer and autumn of 1916. His rich visual images evoke a natural world that appears at first glance to be changeless. The narrator is merely an observer of the shifting seasons and the apparently distant war.

NOTE: HEMINGWAY’S TECHNIQUE Hemingway says a lot by saying little, and his technique is easily seen in this opening chapter. Although he is writing of war, he doesn’t dwell here on gore or glory; fighting is merely „not successful,“ things are going „very badly.“ The language is emptied of passion, as if the narrator had already suffered so much that he had lost the capacity to feel pain.

Notice, though, how carefully the descriptions are worked out to show the despair below the surface. Though the setting is placid and lovely, each glimpse of nature is interrupted by the war. The dust raised by marching soldiers coats the trees; the mountains above the plain „rich with crops“ glow with artillery flashes that look like summer lightning. The war has warped the seasons. The fall comes too early, too harshly: the trees lose their leaves too soon, the country quickly becomes „dead with the autumn.“ In particular, keep the rain in mind, for you’ll see it repeated throughout the book. This is not a fertilizing spring shower, but a cold autumn rain, associated with sickness and death. And note the simile describing the troops loaded with equipment under their rain capes. They „marched as though they were six months gone with child“–not just six months pregnant, but „gone,“ the seemingly casual word choice is in fact a portent of the deaths of many of these soldiers and of the death in childbirth of Catherine Barkley.

The dominant tone is irony and understatement, and it reaches its peak at the end of the chapter when nature and the war both conspire against man: „At the start of the winter came the permanent rain and with the rain came the cholera. But it was checked and in the end only seven thousand died of it in the army.“ Only. Hemingway’s cruelly flattened language paints a picture of genuine horror.


Hemingway’s portrait of military triumph is as understated as his portrait of failure: „The next year there were many victories.“ The war has moved closer, but it still hasn’t much affected life in the town, perhaps, the narrator suggests, because the Austrians hope to return to the pleasant spot when the war is over and so don’t „bombard it to destroy it but only a little in a military way.“ Life goes on. The first snowfall of winter signals the end of fighting until spring, when troops can again move through the mountains.

Your first view of the narrator comes when he’s inside the brothel (there are two in the town: one for officers, one for enlisted men) looking out at the snowfall. He sees the priest from his company walk past. Another of the officers motions to the priest to come inside; he naturally refuses. Later in the mess the officers gang up on the priest and tease him. They show him no respect, baiting him about his celibacy as well as attacking church policies and theology. Talk turns to the narrator (Frederic Henry) and his approaching leave. Everybody has a suggestion as to where he should go–from tourist sites to unspoiled country to cultural centers to big cities. The scene winds up with the priest suggesting that Henry visit his home region of Abruzzi, where it’s cold and clear and dry and where the hunting is good. At the close, the captain and Henry leave to „go to the whorehouse before it shuts.“

NOTE: DISILLUSIONMENT This chapter reveals Henry’s apparently growing acquaintance with the destruction of peacetime values caused by the war. Taken for granted are sanctioned prostitution and the coarse baiting of a priest. Henry stands a little apart from this loss of values, but he’s still affected by it. He feels sympathy for the priest but he doesn’t call a halt to the officers‘ baiting, and he leaves for the brothel with the captain.

Pay attention to the description of Abruzzi. It will appear again, expanded.


Spring, the narrator, and signs of a nearing war all return to the small Italian town. The narrator goes back to the house in which he and the other officers had been barracked the previous fall and finds it unchanged. You meet his roommate, Rinaldi, who immediately begins pumping him about his leave, trying to begin a locker-room conversation about their respective sexual adventures. Rinaldi is spirited, bubbly, Italian; Henry is offhand, ironic. You get the feeling that he doesn’t want to talk about his leave even with his good friend. And he seems to pay no attention to Rinaldi’s repeated vows of love for a newly arrived British nurse, Catherine Barkley.

NOTE: REPETITION When a writer wants to make sure you remember a name or place, often he will skillfully work it in through repetition.

Look at the way Hemingway plays with Catherine Barkley’s name here. In less than a page he has Rinaldi speaking the name four times, never in a way that sounds forced or phony, but guaranteeing that it will stay in your mind. At this point you can be pretty sure that Miss Barkley will appear again in the book.

That evening Frederic Henry tries to explain to his friend the priest why he didn’t visit the priest’s family in Abruzzi. „I myself felt as badly as he did and could not understand why I had not gone. It was what I had wanted to do…. I explained, winefully, how we did not do the things we wanted to do; we never did such things.“

The drunken, stream-of-consciousness paragraph that follows gives you insight into Henry and into the way the war has affected him. He had wanted to go to a place „where it was clear cold and dry… and the peasants took off their hats and called you Lord and there was good hunting.“ But instead he had immersed himself in the nighttime, urban life of drinking and women. It’s as if the world of Abruzzi, with its clear daylight and age-old values, has because of the war become an anachronism Henry can’t believe in, as much as he would like to. Because he can’t believe in that world he must lose himself in the exciting but uncaring world of the night. He realizes that he’s confused–„I could not tell it; as I cannot tell it now“–but the priest appears to understand.

The chapter closes with more talk of the war. The officers trumpet the military hunger for battle: „Must attack. Shall attack!“ The priest, more humane, admits that in war he „supposes“ it’s necessary to attack, but he’s far from jingoistic about it.


The war is coming back to life with the spring. It’s still only a nuisance, but it has moved closer, further disturbing the natural rhythms of the town. The dewy garden next door is now the site of an artillery battery.

Henry checks his ambulances and finds that while he was gone things went on pretty much as usual. He’s mildly miffed. Maybe he’s not as necessary in this war as he thought he’d be.

He goes to his room. Rinaldi is all shined up, ready to visit Miss Barkley, and he persuades Henry to go along with him. The two officers meet Catherine Barkley and another nurse, Helen Ferguson; Catherine and Henry pair off, Rinaldi talks to Helen.

In conversation Catherine lets you in on some of her past when she answers Henry’s question about an officer’s swagger stick she carries. She explains that it belonged to her fiance, who died last year in the Somme. Note the way Hemingway shows you some of the romantic notions held by many people at the start of World War I. Catherine volunteers as a nurse’s aide, half hoping that her boyfriend will come to her hospital with a picturesque wound, looking like somebody out of an old painting, Instead–and she states it with brutal directness–„they blew him all to bits.“ The memory of the loss loosens her tongue and she tells Henry how she stayed chaste throughout her engagement but now wishes she hadn’t.

The chapter closes with some banter about the rivalry between the English and the Scots that Rinaldi finds incomprehensible. Then Rinaldi acknowledges that he’s lost Catherine to Henry, if indeed he ever had her to lose.

NOTE: HISTORY Today the Somme is just another French place name. To readers in 1929, the year this novel was published (and only ten years after the end of World War I), the Somme was a symbol not only of a horribly mismanaged battle but of an entire mismanaged and brutal war–a war that at its start both sides felt would be quick and painless, but that became an endless bloodbath. One statistic tells it all. In one day, July 1, 1916, the British attackers suffered 60,000 casualties, over 19,000 of them killed, while gaining little ground. The battle went on in that fashion for months.


Henry goes to call on Catherine but can’t see her because she’s on duty. In talking to the head nurse he tells his reasons for joining the Italian army. He’s casual and understated as usual–„I was in Italy, and I spoke Italian.“

He drives to the bridgehead where the Italians are about to launch their spring offensive. Hemingway describes the relative positions of the Italians and Austrians. The Italians are dug in, but certain parts of their lines can be shelled steadily by the Austrians–a fact that will be important later. He also introduces the Italian carabinieri, or battle police, the equivalent of American MPs. These men halt Henry’s car when some shells land close by. You’re going to hear from the carabinieri again.

Henry gets to see Catherine, first in company with Helen Ferguson, then alone. After a little chat about the war and her position as a V.A.D., a kind of aide, they both agree to „drop the war.“

Then begins a subtly masterful scene. Note how skillfully yet how sparely Hemingway depicts the sexual fencing between these two who are getting to know each other in the charged urgency of wartime.

Henry moves to kiss her. She slaps him. He knows he has an advantage over her now. He plays on her sympathy, then flatters her. She, in turn, flatters him. Sure of himself, Henry sees his seduction of the young nurse „like the moves in a chess game.“ He succeeds in getting her to kiss him.

But she shakes him up a bit with her curious statement that he should be good to her „because we’re going to have a strange life.“ Is she thinking of marriage? Or of some other semipermanent arrangement? Or is she just talking about their life during the war? You don’t know yet. Neither does Henry, but he’s bothered by her words. Catherine is turning out to be something more complicated than a quick conquest.

Back in their room, Rinaldi jokingly compares Henry to a dog in heat. Henry gets mad, but friendship prevails and the two stop before a real argument gets going.


Returning from a two-day absence, Henry goes to visit Catherine. His description of her hospital shows him to be a person of some artistic sensitivity. (You’ll learn later that he was a student of architecture before he went to war.) He doesn’t like the white marble busts that line the hospital walls, he tells us, and that bleak image of dead statuary will be repeated, tragically, at the end of the book. In his rambling thoughts Henry also tells of his ambivalent attitude toward the war. He stands a little apart from it, but he’s undeniably involved. He thinks it’s „theatrical“ to wear a steel helmet in town, but unlike Rinaldi he is enough of a soldier to carry the required officer’s side arm, though it embarrasses him.

Then Catherine appears. The two speak very formally in the presence of an orderly, but as soon as they are alone Catherine becomes waspish. Henry has been away for three days without sending her any word. „Where have you been?“ she grills him. „You couldn’t have sent me a note?“ Is she jealous? Suspicious? Or is she thinking of the way her last lover failed to return? A certain desperation in her words leads you to believe the last.

Henry, at this stage, is willing to say anything to advance his erotic flirtation. „I love you,“ he lies. Even as he’s kissing Catherine he thinks she’s a little crazy, but she’s certainly better than one of the trollops in the officers‘ brothel. Once again he sees the whole romance as a game, this time bridge, but where „you said things instead of playing cards.“ But it doesn’t bother him at the moment.

Then, just as he’s certain the strange, lovely girl is willing to be seduced, she brings him up short when she acknowledges that she’s acting, too.

„This is a rotten game we play, isn’t it?“ Catherine asks. To save face as much as for any other reason, Henry feels he has to insist that he truly loves her, but she knows he’s lying.

They kiss again.

On his way home, Henry passes the Villa Rossa, where „it was still going on.“ What is „it“? The same empty game of false emotions that he and Catherine had spent most of their evening playing but which Catherine’s honesty showed a promise–or perhaps, for Henry, a threat–of ending. Back in the room, Rinaldi senses Henry’s puzzlement over Catherine, and irritates him by saying that the Villa Rossa had been very instructive that night. Rinaldi thanks heaven that he didn’t get involved with someone as complicated as the British nurse.


For the first time you encounter Frederic Henry at work transporting the wounded. He watches a regiment march by, hot and dusty, followed by stragglers and then by a single limping soldier. He goes to talk to the man. The soldier says he’s suffering from a hernia and asks Henry to take him not to his regiment’s medical officer, as regulations require, but to a hospital. The soldier, who has lived in Pittsburgh, recognizes Henry as an American and in English admits he has aggravated his hernia by throwing away his truss so that he won’t have to go to the front lines. For that reason he doesn’t want to return to his regiment. He’ll be operated on and forced to fight at the front.

Up to now Henry has been sympathetic but official–no papers, no trip to the hospital. Then the soldier asks him a pointed question: „You wouldn’t want to go in the line all the time, would you?“

Henry’s answer is simple and eloquent: „No.“

Henry softens. Dropping his official pose, he advises the soldier to fall down and bump his head. Then Henry can return to pick him up in the ambulance. Here’s another example of Henry’s increasing ambivalence about the war. He’s swaying from the legal (but inhumane) stance to an illegal (but humane) one. The ploy doesn’t work, however. When Henry returns to carry out his promise he finds that a horse ambulance has already picked up the soldier to take him to his regiment.

Henry goes back to his room and prepares Zona di Guerra (war zone) postcards to send home. These were all-purpose postcards that enabled soldiers to send any number of messages by checking various preprinted boxes. Note that he checks simply, „I am well,“ and then says sardonically to himself, „That should handle them.“ Again you see the Hemingway hero, cut off by fate or choice from the traditional values, from family, from home.

Using stream of consciousness technique, Hemingway now records the movement of Henry’s mind, as one thought flows freely into another, from his impressions of the wartime leaders to the places he would like to travel if there were no war, and then to visiting Catherine after supper. He fantasizes about going to a hotel with her and taking her to bed. Note that as Henry gets more excited by this erotic daydream, Hemingway’s prose style changes. The long sentence beginning with „Maybe she would pretend“ ends more than 150 words later with „outside the door please.“ All those „and’s“! Yet Hemingway makes such language work–it conveys perfectly the thoughts galloping through Henry’s mind.

He can’t wait to finish supper and go to Catherine. But at this point in the book his feelings for her are still so casual they can be easily pushed aside by other desires. Wanting to seem one of the boys, he gets very drunk. Just as paragraphs before, Hemingway’s prose reflected Henry’s mounting sexual excitement, so now it reflects his growing drunkenness. Rinaldi rescues his roommate and forces him to walk–handing him coffee beans to disguise his winy breath–and takes him to see Catherine.

When Henry gets to the hospital, Ferguson tells him that Catherine can’t see him. Is she sick? Or is she angry because he’s later than usual? One thing is sure. Henry feels bad that he treated Catherine „very lightly.“ Does he love her? Not yet. But he feels „lonely and hollow“ at missing her. And that may be the beginning of love.


Henry gets his orders. There’s to be an attack and he must take his ambulances to the lines. An interesting ironic sidelight–everybody speaks „with great positiveness and strategic knowledge“ about the attack, but nobody really knows anything. The eternal rumor mill hard at work.

He stops at Catherine’s hospital. Even though she’s on duty, he asks to see her. When he tells her he can’t see her that evening because there’s „a show up above Plava,“ she gives him a St. Anthony medal. Note Hemingway/Henry’s British usage–„show“ for attack. Hemingway admired the British; their clipped, understated manner of speech works well here.

There is a muted poignancy to their parting. Understand, she’s been through this before. The last time the man came back in pieces. Henry, not thinking, takes the medal and says, simply, „Good-by.“

Her response, another of Hemingway’s sentences that says much by stating little, is, „No, not good-by.“

Riding away in the ambulance, Henry stuffs the St. Anthony in his pocket. His driver, a believer, tells him it’s better to wear the medal. Henry does. Then, almost casually, he says, „after I was wounded I never found him,“ a dark hint of what is to come.

NOTE: FORESHADOWING Foreshadowing is, of course, the writer hinting at events to come. The curious thing about it is that you don’t know it’s going on until after it’s over, when you read about the big event that was hinted at chapters before. And if you haven’t read carefully, you don’t get it at all. So read with care.

Hemingway begins to describe the landscape, much as he did at the book’s opening. The countryside is pleasant, agricultural, and peaceful. The troop columns and military cars seem out of place. As Henry moves closer to the attack site, though, the description changes. They drive on a „rough new military road.“ The mountains grow bleak, „chalky white and furrowed, with strange planes,“ and beyond them are the mountains of the enemy. Troops and guns and trucks become more numerous and then come „the broken houses of the little town that was to be taken.“

Darkness begins to fall.


Henry and his drivers now ride down a camouflaged road to a brickyard where they park their ambulances. There are troops dug in along the river bank and aid stations in some of the larger dugouts. Watching them are Austrians in observation balloons that float above the hills on the other side of the river.

Henry finds out what he is to do when the attack starts, and sets his men up in a big dugout. They ask about food and Henry is told that a field kitchen will come and feed them. They wait. Notice how at first these four men, all mechanics who hate the war, don’t want to talk in front of Henry. Even though he’s only an American ambulance driver, he’s a tenente, an officer, and still represents authority.

A little later they loosen up and start to talk, first about the attack and later about the war in general. The conversation is revealing. They pass judgment on various units in the Italian army as well as on the state of morale, which seems low.

NOTE: Bersaglieri are shock troops, an elite group. Granatieri (grenadiers, grenade-throwers) are apparently less spirited. The Alpini are Italian mountain troops, and you already know that the carabinieri are hated MPs. Note that Passini spits at the mention of them. Evviva l’esercito means „long live the army.“ Passini, of course, says it sarcastically.

The long Chapter 9 is climaxed by Henry’s wounding and his removal first to a dressing station and then to a field hospital behind the lines. The subjective impressions of the wounding are autobiographical: Henry, like Hemingway, is wounded by a large Austrian mortar shell, and a man near him has his legs blown off. The passage describing the wounding is a keenly effective piece of stream of consciousness and one written with absolute sincerity and candor, coming out of the impressions still vivid in Hemingway’s mind ten years after he had been wounded.

The chapter closes with a grisly incident. The wounded man in the stretcher above Henry hemorrhages; blood pours down on Henry. After a time the stream lessens and then drips slowly, like „from an icicle after the sun has gone.“ The ambulance stops; the upper stretcher bearing the now-dead man is removed and another is put in.

Perhaps this is the horror behind Frederic Henry’s earlier, emotionless statement, „Things went badly.“


In a very hot room in the field hospital, Henry rests and recovers. The atmosphere is peaceful, subdued.

Rinaldi visits. As usual the Italian is outgoing, the American subdued. A lot of discussion involves a possible decoration for Henry–Rinaldi hopes to magnify Henry’s deeds to earn him a higher medal, but Henry downplays them.

Catherine’s name comes up, casually, but Henry seems more interested in hearing about the girls in the Villa Rossa. Rinaldi says the brothel should change them, they’re like old friends, not girls. Is he revealing that he studiously avoids any permanent human attachment? Perhaps. Yet he seems to have missed Henry as a „blood brother and roommate.“ He goes on teasing Henry, now slyly hinting that Henry and the priest are in love, „that way.“ Henry laughs it off.

Getting ready to leave, Rinaldi starts in on Catherine, scornfully calling her an „English goddess.“ This time Henry doesn’t laugh off the teasing. It gets to him. Again (as in Chapter 5) they come close to a real argument over Rinaldi’s cool attitude toward women in general–Catherine included–and Henry’s still confused state of mind about Catherine in particular. He may not love her, but he certainly gets touchy when Rinaldi criticizes her.


Henry’s next visitor is the priest. His visit is a contrast to Rinaldi’s. It’s sundown, cooler. Henry says that lying in bed at dusk makes him feel like a small boy.

The talk turns to the ever-present war and is loaded with meaning. Henry suggests that the priest is suffering from the „war disgust“–perhaps the hollow feeling that sent Henry to the city instead of to Abruzzi, a disgust and uncaring that begin with the fighting but extend to all of life. The priest says that is not the case; he hates only the war. The priest spells things out neatly. The men in the Italian army don’t want to fight; the officers and the „people who would make war“ force them to. Henry, although not a real officer, is, according to the priest, closer to them than to the men. Even wounded, Henry doesn’t see the war for what it is.

He’s probably right. At this stage, frightened as he might have been at getting blown up, Henry is still learning. He may deprecate his forthcoming medals, but it’s a good bet that he’ll wear them.

The priest speculates about what he’ll do after the war. At the mention of the Abruzzi–that region of rural serenity–the priest brightens, and the talk turns to love. At first it’s love of God, but as the priest moves to go, Henry asks a pointed question, „How about loving women? If I really loved some woman…“

Note the difference between this and the close of the last chapter. The priest talks of pure love; Rinaldi complains about the same old prostitutes. The priest assures Henry that he

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