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farewell to arms

A Farewell to Arms

A Farewell to Arms is a semi-autobiographical novel written by Ernest Hemingway, first published in 1929. Much of the novel was written at the home of Hemingway's in-laws in Piggott, Arkansas. Considered by some critics to be the greatest war novel of all time, the novel is told through the point of view of Lieutenant Frederic Henry, an American serving as an ambulance driver in the Italian army during World War I. The title is taken from a poem by 16th century English dramatist George Peele.

Plot summary

The novel is divided into five books. In the first book, Henry meets and attempts to seduce Catherine Barkley and their relationship begins. While on the Italian front, Henry is wounded in the knee by a mortar shell and sent to a hospital in Milan. The second book shows the growth of Henry and Catherine's relationship as they spend time together in Milan over the summer. Henry falls in love with Catherine, and by the time he is healed, Catherine is three months pregnant. In the third book, Henry returns to his unit, but not long after, the Austro-Germans break through the Italian lines, and the Italians retreat. After falling behind and catching up again, Henry is taken to a place where officers are being interrogated and executed for the "treachery" that supposedly led to the Italian defeat. However, Henry escapes by jumping into a river. In the fourth book, Catherine and Henry reunite and flee to Switzerland in a rowboat. In the final book, Henry and Catherine live a quiet life in the mountains until she goes into labor. After a long and painful labor, their son is stillborn. Catherine begins to hemorrhage and soon dies, leaving Henry to return to their hotel in the rain.

Characters

  • Frederic Henry, often simply called Tenente ("Lieutenant"), is the narrator of the story. Henry is a volunteer ambulance driver from the United States. In Henry, we see the beginnings of what comes to be called Hemingway's "Code Hero": Henry is stoic under duress or pain; he modestly deflects praise for his contributions to the war; he is unflappable under fire; he does his work. He is a "man's man," in that his thoughts revolve on women ("girls") and drink. He participates in and seems to enjoy the banal, everyday conversation between the soldiers. He is attracted to the simple goodness of the priest, who, like Henry (who is not religious), sticks to his beliefs despite the war's constant presence.
  • Catherine Barkley has been used hard by life. She declined a proposal of marriage, and then her love was killed in the war. She is Scottish, professional, deeply feeling. Her sexual desires and her simple desire for companionship are sometimes at odds with her needs to tend to the ill. Like the code hero, she handles conflicting needs with grace, giving to both, but shorting none. Feminist thinkers will see in Catherine, Hemingway's perfect woman: wise and cynical in many ways, her wisdom cannot contain her desire. As Henry gives his health and youth to the war effort, Catherine's chief heroism is to ignore the dangers of unprotected sex and to accept the pain and death of childbirth stoically.
  • Rinaldi is a physician through which Hemingway draws his idea of an Italian male. Sketched somewhat jingoistically, Rinaldi is unfailingly exuberant, ignoring small details that would stop his large and giving gestures. He loves women and drinking, bearing a bottle of the latter and tales of the former to his friend Henry as Henry recovers from his wounds. He enjoys performing surgery, seeing it as an enjoyable challenge; he greets his friend Frederic Henry with a formal European-style kiss. Rinaldi is a form of the code hero as well. He allows Hemingway to explore another, non-Anglo-American, way of being male, of facing even a difficult world, an injured Italy, with joie de vivre, ignoring all danger, giving himself.

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