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Free Barron's Booknotes-A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
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Book IV begins what in traditional dramatic plot structure is called the resolution. Henry is turning his back on the war. What needs to be resolved are how he'll complete his escape, how he'll find Catherine, and how they'll live.


Henry has made it to Milan. He goes to a wine shop and has coffee. His dialogue with the proprietor shows the temper of the country at this juncture in the war. Word of the retreat has gotten back to Milan. Defeat is in the air. Men are apparently deserting because the proprietor strongly hints that he's running a kind of underground railway station for soldiers "in trouble." Henry politely refuses his help, but he does take care to remember the address.

He goes to the hospital and finds that Catherine is away on leave in Stresa. Then he seeks out Ralph Simmons, the American opera singer. Henry is organizing a plan. He asks about getting into Switzerland and asks Simmons to buy him some civilian clothing. (Incidentally, now you find out what Henry was doing in Italy when the war broke out: studying architecture in Rome.) Simmons offers his own clothes and further suggests that Stresa is ideal for escaping to Switzerland. "You just row a boat across," he says. The plan seems settled.


In Simmons' civilian clothes Henry takes a train to Stresa to try to find Catherine. There's a significant incident on the train, when some aviators look at his civilian clothing with scorn. Note his reaction. He's not insulted, although in "the old days" he would have picked a fight. Now not only is he unbelligerent, he doesn't even want to read about the war. He's finished with it, made his "separate peace."

He gets to Stresa, a resort town on Lake Maggiore, to find it nearly deserted. The tourist season is over. After taking a hotel room, he goes to the bar, has some drinks and food-cool, clean martinis and sandwiches, a pleasure after too much rough army food. He asks the barman, an old friend, about Catherine. The bartender goes out and finds that Catherine is staying in another hotel with her friend Helen Ferguson.

Note that when the subject of the war surfaces, Henry pushes it back under. He insists to himself that the war is over for him, despite a nagging feeling that it may not be over yet.

At supper he finds Catherine and Helen. Catherine is, of course, ecstatic; Helen roundly scolds him for getting Catherine "in trouble." In the scene that follows, Helen's emotions run the gamut of anger, sympathy, compassion, scorn, self-pity, and finally resignation that Henry and Catherine are going off together. She's concerned, almost a motherly figure.

Then when Catherine and Henry are alone in the hotel, you have a pivotal passage. Stylistically, it shows Hemingway again departing from the tough, short, simple sentences for which he is famous: note, for example, in the long sentence that begins "That night at the hotel" how in a torrent of words Hemingway depicts the couple's relief and rising excitement at being together. Thematically, it shows both the deep psychological wound that Henry has suffered-his loneliness, his fear of the night-and also the way in which his love for Catherine, and hers for him, is healing the wound. But there is a foreshadowing that the healing may not last in the often-quoted lines that begin, "If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them."

The two lovers wake to a sunny morning, all thoughts of gloom put aside. Henry repeats his refusal to read, talk, or think about the war, but practical Catherine forces him to think at least about leaving Italy so he won't be arrested for desertion. They decide to attempt an escape to neutral Switzerland.

Before the chapter ends, however, Hemingway slips in more gloomy notes. As they talk about crossing the lake, the sky clouds over and the lake darkens. And Henry, despite his insistence that he has made his "separate peace," still feels like a criminal for deserting the army.

At the close of the chapter, they decide to face their problems by telling themselves, "Let's not think about anything." How long that tactic can succeed is, of course, problematic.


Henry is alone, Catherine having gone to see Helen. Note that, alone, he does read about the war in the papers. You learn that the retreat was not stopped at the Tagliamento River, where he escaped. He wonders how and where the Austrian advance will stop.

You hear about another character, Count Greffi, an elegant old diplomat. (He is based on a true figure, Count Giuseppe Greppi.) Henry knows him from playing billiards while drinking champagne, "a splendid custom," he thinks. The count asks to see Henry.

Henry then goes fishing with the barman. The scene serves multiple purposes. It's a lovely reminder of the peacetime world that has been shattered elsewhere in Italy. And it emphasizes the antiwar sentiment in the country, as the barman admits that, if drafted, he'd skip out. Last, it establishes the presence of a boat available for Henry's use.

Henry returns to the hotel; Catherine follows. Note his uneasiness. Perhaps it's because he has free time on his hands, but also it's because he is still, as long as he stays in Italy, subject to arrest and possible execution. He's so in love with, and so dependent on, Catherine that he feels at a loss when she's not around.

The two of them lunch with Helen. Later Henry gets an invitation from Count Greffi to play billiards.

There's an elegance to this scene that contrasts with the rough military life Henry has been leading, and an intellectualism that contrasts with the physicality of Henry's love affair and his military service. Count Greffi seems to represent a more dignified and honorable world that is passing away with the war, that has become as much of an anachronism as the priest's beloved, rustic Abruzzi. At the end of the scene the talk between Henry and the count turns to metaphysics-to prayer and the religious nature of love-and, as in Henry's conversations with the priest, love for a woman is seen as being a possible substitute for religious faith.

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

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