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A Farewell to Arms

Essay by   •  February 11, 2011  •  Research Paper  •  1,927 Words (8 Pages)  •  1,773 Views

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A Farewell to Arms is a novel by Ernest Hemingway about an American ambulance driver in Italy during World War I, and the nurse, Catherine Barkley, with whom he falls in love. The story is narrated by this driver, named Frederic Henry. Whether or not this book is truly an anti-war novel is debatable, but it well depicts the effects an ongoing war has on soldiers and how the men try to numb this pain. Henry's close friend at the front, Rinaldi, forgets the war with the help of sex and seduction, the priest takes comfort in God, the Captain has humor and jokes about the priest, and almost all drink profusely, taking wine and brandy like water. But the most important and notable attempt to escape from the pain of war is Henry and Catherine's: they hide from the real world in their imaginary tales of love, then become buried in obsession with each other, but, eventually, they truly love one another.

Mr. Henry meets Ms. Barkley (very appropriately) in the springtime. Rinaldi originally was planning on having a relationship with the English nurse, but forfeited her to Henry when he saw their mutual interest. When Catherine and Henry first met, she was carrying a rattan stick, and Henry asks about it. Catherine explains: "'It belonged to a boy who was killed last year'... 'He was a very nice boy. He was going to marry me and he was killed in the Somme.'" (Hemingway, 18) The fact that she is carrying around one of her fiancee's possessions shows that she is still mourning his death. Catherine, wanting escape from the grief of her fiancee's death, and Henry, wanting to forget about the war, begin their relationship. Since their relationship was born of a need for entertainment rather than real mutual interest, it started off as a dishonest game of seduction. During one of Henry's meetings with Ms. Barkley he narrates: "I did not care what I was getting into. This was better than going every evening to the house for officers... I knew I did not love Catherine Barkley nor had any idea of loving her. This was a game, like bridge..." (30) Catherine used the relationship to fulfill some fantasy. "'And do you love me?' [asks Catherine] 'Yes.'...'Say, "I've come back to Catherine in the night."' 'I've come back to Catherine in the night.' [Repeats Henry] 'Oh, darling, you have come back, haven't you?'" (30) She has created a stage, scenario, and is giving Henry the dialogue, possibly fantasizing that Henry is her dead fiancee. Catherine recognizes the falsity of their relationship openly. "'This is a rotten game we play, isn't it?'" (31) She later tells Henry that he no longer has to pretend to love her. He lies and says that he really does love her. She responds: "'Please let's not lie when we don't have to. I had a very fine little show and I'm all right now.'"(31) Henry knows that he has no honest feelings for Catherine, and Catherine knows and admits the relationship is merely a game.

While Henry is on the front he dreams about Catherine, imagining a romantic night with her far away from the war. Doing so he makes himself to want to see her, but that night he drinks too much and nearly forgets their date. When he finally arrives he learns that she is ill and will not be able to see him. He describes the way he feels as "lonely and hollow" (41). His want for Catherine is growing.

Soon after that night he is sent to work where there is to be an attack. While sitting in a trench with three other officers a trench mortar shell explodes nearby, hitting Henry in the legs. He goes immediately to a field hospital and spends a long time lying in bed, watching soldiers around him die, only getting a couple short visits from his friends Rinaldi, the priest, and the major. Eventually he gets moved to an American hospital in Milan. Catherine gets herself transferred there, and to Henry she is a truly beautiful sight. He has spent too much time alone and in pain, and she seems the perfect cure to his loneliness. Henry has lost his previous perception of never loving Catherine: she has become all he has. He describes the first time he sees her in the Milan hospital: "She came in the room and over to the bed... I thought I had never seen any one so beautiful... When I saw her I was in love with her" (91). The obsession begins. Catherine keeps asking if Henry loves her, and he responds that he does; that he is crazy in love with her. He reflects on his responses: "God knows I had not wanted to fall in love with her. I had not wanted to fall in love with any one. But God knows I had and I lay on the bed in the room of the hospital in Milan and all sorts of things went through my head but I felt wonderful..." (93) They spend their nights lying together and dreaming. Though they say that they are in love with each other, the lies and facades continue. Catherine wants Henry to lie, though, to continue her fantasies. "'How many [women] have you- how do you say it? -stayed with?' 'None.' 'You're lying to me.' 'Yes.' 'It's all right. Keep right on lying to me. That's what I want you to do.'" (104)

Henry and Catherine become obsessed with each other, and create their own world outside of reality, far away from the war. An example of this is in the way he describes her hair, as something of complete and perfect beauty. "I would watch her while she kept very still and then take out the last two pins and it would all come down and she would drop her head and we would both be inside of it, and it was the feeling of inside a tent or behind falls." (114) The feeling of being hidden within her hair is symbolic of how they used the love of each other to separate themselves from the world. Soon they become entirely dependent

on one another; they find joy in little else than being together. As Catherine said to Henry: "Only being sent away from you [worries me]. You're my religion. You're all I've got." (116)

Catherine wants nothing more than Henry to be happy. She promises to do anything to please him, and even says that she and he are one. "There isn't any me. I'm you. Don't make up a separate me." (115) She seems to be very submissive, as if her sole joy is pleasing Henry. "'You are happy, aren't you? Is there anything

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