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Free Barron's Booknotes-A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
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You begin again with some fine sensory description of Henry and Catherine in his hospital room-the sights, the sounds, the sensations of a cool night, even the taste of crackers and vermouth and, the next morning, the smell of coffee sipped by the antiaircraft gun crew on the next roof.

You get the impression that "their" room, as Henry now calls it, is a refuge from the war. Although Milan is not in the combat zone, evidence of the fighting is all around-in the searchlight stabbing the sky and the men at the antiaircraft gun.

Catherine and Henry's talk reveals their growing intimacy. She readies him for surgery and curiously and innocently questions him about his experiences with prostitutes. The chapter ends with more lovemaking.

Some readers find Catherine a less than convincing character, and scenes like this surely contribute to that conclusion. For these readers, she is too compliant-"You see? I do anything you want."- to be believed. People who disagree with this view of her point out that Farewell is a love story. Henry and Catherine are deeply in love and are just now realizing it, hence the submersion of one person in the other. In fairness to Hemingway, you have to concede that he does prepare you for their intense love by tracing the steps of Henry's growing involvement. But you must make up your own mind about Catherine.


Henry wakes from surgery feeling so sick that he doesn't even care whether Catherine visits him.

A few other patients are admitted, a lucky break for the lovers because now the hospital can justify keeping the full staff of nurses. Catherine volunteers for night duty to be with Henry.

When he's not with her, Henry sends Catherine notes, using Helen Ferguson as a messenger. At one point he has a significant conversation with Helen regarding Catherine. Hints about the future pepper their talk. Marriage? A split-up? Death? Pregnancy? At this juncture you don't know, nor are you supposed to know. This is the complication of Hemingway's "drama." His job is to pique interest, which he does in seemingly artless conversations like this one.

Helen convinces Catherine to go off night duty for three nights and rest. When she comes back to him, their love, if anything, is stronger.


The first sentence sets the tone for all of this brief chapter: "We had a lovely time that summer." They do have a lovely time, going out to dinner and strolling, Henry on crutches, through the streets of Milan, and they continue to spend their nights together. Note how in the long paragraph beginning "After dinner," the tempo of the prose increases as it leads them through the city and back to the hospital for lovemaking.

Hemingway inserts two slight interruptions in their bliss. One is the ever-present war and the knowledge that Henry must eventually go back to it. Subtly, Hemingway keeps sounding that note: the Gran Italia restaurant, for instance, has no wine waiter "because of the war." The other concern is marriage and the possibility of Catherine's getting pregnant. This is another example of the conflict between legality and morality. It's morally "right" for them to be together, they are in love. But if they do the legal thing and marry, Catherine will be transferred and, though married, they won't be together. They postpone the dilemma by saying that in their eyes they are married.

They also postpone-Catherine in particular-any thoughts of Henry's return to the war, although they know it's inevitable.


The summer goes on and Henry's legs heal enough to let him walk with a cane. He takes daily treatments at another hospital but can't wait to return to Catherine in the evening. Ironically, the more he recovers, the less he can be seen with her, because nurses are forbidden to accompany patients who don't need them. He follows the war news; the only conclusions he can draw are that too many men are getting killed and that the war looks as if it's going to go on forever.

On his excursions outside the hospital he meets two members of a small American colony in Milan, Mr. and Mrs. Meyers. He is a shady individual fond of horse racing; she is an overbearing motherly type who takes gifts to her "dear boys" in the hospital. Later Henry meets two other Americans, tenors trying to break into opera under Italian names.

Then there's Ettore Moretti, the war lover. He thinks medals are fine, but wound stripes are really something to be proud of. He predicts that he will be a colonel before the war is over. Henry thinks he's a legitimate hero but a bore. Catherine, with the traditional British dislike of bragging and show, cannot stand him.

The chapter closes with Frederic and Catherine back in their room in the hospital. Outside it is raining. Catherine reveals that the rain scares her because she sees herself "dead in it." Henry tries to comfort her, to tell her it's all nonsense.


The rain is obviously more than just rain here. Whether Hemingway intends it as a full-fledged symbol or just as rotten weather that triggers morbid thoughts is not clear. Remember the rain shown in the opening chapter, when the troops marching with their protruding capes were seen as "gone with child." Now Catherine is gloom and afraid in the rain. Later in the book we'll see rain frequently-but not invariably-linked to illness and death. Just how far you want to take such symbolism is up to you; Hemingway's critics have had various opinions on the matter. But where symbolism is concerned it's usually better to sin by omission than by commission. A symbol should be thought of as being what it physically is-rain, in this case-as well as being what it symbolizes. The danger in symbol-hunting is that everything in a book becomes fair game.

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Free Barron's Booknotes-A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

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