A Farewell To Arms by Ernest Hemmingway tells the story of a young American soldior, Fredrick Henry and his experiences of being in the italien army during world war one. Hemmingway has chosen to write this novel in first-person with his main character Henry relating the story to us. From the very first chapter we can see what kind of a person Henry is. There is no introduction of himself (in fact we do not even learn his name until chapter 5) and no mention of any other characters. Instead we are immediately introduced to Henry’s surroundings. He tells us about everything he sees, from mountains to soldiors and their uniforms. However he does not describe it to us, everything is fact.
What he says is precise information. He tells us how it is exactly, plainly. He doesn’t waste time with adjectives or feelings. This gives us the instant impression of him being a very accepting, laid back person – nothing seems to faze him. An example of where we can see this is on the second page as he says ” At the start of the winter came the permanent rain and with the rain came the cholera. But it was checked and only 7000 died in the army. ” He says 7000 with only showing that he has no feelings about it. It happened and he accepts that.
At the beginning of the novel, we see how shallow a lifestyle Henry has, spending all his free time drinking and in whorehouses, sleeping with countless women. He was a man without responsibilites or cares, and because of that it has caused him to be arrogant and self centred. He is to change however, (though not at first) as he meets a lady called Catherine Barkley – an English nurse who has recently been transferred to the front. Henry’s attraction to her makes him become quite forceful as he is determined to have her, She however seems to be frightened of him and tries to push him away.
She had recently lost her first love to the war, while he was fighting in the Somme in France. He had been her fiance but she had refused to marry him straight away or even to sleep with him even though they had been together for eight years. The she regretted deeply and had suddenly become terrified at the prospect of being alone. She gives into Henry’s advances and sleeps with him. It is obvious to us that she is forcing herself (at first) into being with him. It’s like he’s a precaution preventing her from being unhappy. In the first stages of their relationship, we see how the death of her fiance as truly affected her as she becomes utterly obsessed with Henry. At every opportunity she is declaring she loves him and demanding to know if he feels the same about her. She allows herself to become needy and desperate. Begging for Henry’s attention, striving for his approval. The fear of ever being isolated controls her mind and leaves behind a woman perilously trying to please him and gain his affections. Henry is extremely satisfied with Catherine’s attentions and though does not feel it, tells her he loves her to keep her happy.
He seems to be amused by her behaviour and was very much contented by her willingness to sleep with him, though he does admit to finding her a little strange. ” I thought she was probably a little crazy … I did not care what I was getting into … this was better than going every evening to the house for officars where girls climbed all over you … I knew I did not love Catherine Barkley, nor had any idea of loving her … this was a game … it was alright with me. ” At first Henry is very blase bout their whole relationship but it surprisingly only takes a few days for Henry to realise that there is a little affection growing inside him.
This we can witness right at the end of chapter seven when Catherine is unable to meet Henry he thinks, ” I had treated seeing Catherine very lightly, I had gotten somewhat drunk and had nearly forgotten to come but when I could not see her, there I was feeling lonely and hollow. ” Henry does not admit to his real feelings straight away. For a while we must witness a sort of master and servant relationship as we watch Catherine’s struggle to please him.
He was always in control, telling her when he wanted her, never showing her true feelings. At the end of book one Henry is badly injured at the front by a mortar shell, so is sent to an American hospital in Milan to recover. Barkley asks for a transfer to the same hospital to be with Henry. Here their relationship blossoms as they spend more and more time together. Henry for the first time allows someone to get close to him and opens up.
He loses his fear of commitment and finally admits that he does love her. ” We had a lovely time that summer … if we let our hands touch, we were excited … t was lovely in the nights and if we could only touch we were happy … beside all the big times we had many small ways of making love, we tried putting thoughts into the other one’s head while in different rooms. It seemed to work but that was probably because we were thinking the same things anyway … we said to each other that we were married the first day she had come to the hospital and we counted months from our wedding day. I wanted to be really married. ” Henry has become a changed man – he is no longer afraid at all of being in a relationship and is happy and willing to be with Catherine forever.
She however is still very much the same, still terrified of losing Henry and insecure in herself of not being able to make him happy. ” I haven’t been happy for a long time … but now we’re happy and we love each other. Do lets just be happy. You are happy aren’t you? Is there anything I do you don’t like? Can I do anything to please you? Would you like me to take my hair down? Would you like to play? ” We can see clearly Catherine’s desperation to please Henry, but it is difficult to understand why she is still so frightened of losing him when he now has become so open, showing her exactly how he feels.
Just before Henry returns to the front, Catherine discovers that she is pregnant. He, knowing he has to leave her becomes deeply worried about her and what she’ll do when he is gone. We then see a strange side to Catherine as she actually shows how strong a person she truly is in the real world, away from Henry. In a conversation with Henry just before he leaves to return to the front, Catherine reassures Henry, which is a complete reverse in their roles in the relationship as it is normally Henry who reassures and comforts Catherine.
Where will you have the baby? … I don’t know the best place I can find … how will you arrange it? … the best way I can. Don’t worry, darling. We may heve many babies before the war is over. Don’t worry, darling. You were fine until now and now you’re worrying. ” Catherine and Henry’s separation is not to last long, as Henry quickly returns to Milan searching for Catherine, fleeing from the military police who are pursuing him. The war in Italy had not been going well. The Italien army army were failing to make breakthroughs and take new ground.
The opposition army army however were much stronger and were beginning to push easily through the Italien defence. Because of this, the italiens had called a huge retreat moving further away from the Austrian border. It was during this the police arrested Henry after he was separated from all of his men. Him being an American didn’t help him persuade the police that he wasn’t a spy. They refused to believe any of his stories and he was put forward for execution. Luckily though, he managed to make a getaway.
After finding Catherine, she and him make an extraordinary escape from the country and arrive in Switzerland where at last they are free to spend time and be happy together. Catherine and Henry spend many months in the mountains enjoying the winter and their newfound peaceful life. Everything seems to be perfect. They are both so happy together and have the excitement of a new baby on the way. Unfortunately though, the ending of the story isn’t a happy one, which you can more or less guess is going to be the case. Catherine goes into labour and has a really long, hard time of it.
The doctor decides because of the lack of progress a caesarean is the best way forward, the baby when removed is a stillborn. But this isn’t the only trauma of the birth. Catherine also dies after having many haemorrhages. It was a quick finish for her but one that you could forsee and very close to the end, so also could Henry. When seeing how bad the labour was going for Catherine he became absolutely terrified at the prospect of losing her and had countless battles in his head over whether or not she was going to die. ” What if she should die? She won’t die.
People don’t die in childbirth nowadays. That was what all husbands thought. Yes but what if she should die? She can’t I tell you don’t be a fool. It’s just a bad time … Yes but what if she should die? What reasons is there for her to die? … But what if she should die? She won’t. She’s all right. But what if she should die? She can’t die. But what if she should die? Hey, what about that? What if she should die? ” At the beginning when Henry is thinking about Catherine, he’s just suggesting the fact that Catherine could die – he doesn’t believe she will as he repeats, ” she won’t die. But as he keeps thinking about, panick begins to creep in as the idea of losing her becomes more real and he thinks, ” she can’t die” basically saying she can’t leave him – alone.
As the argument draws to a close the optimistic side loses as it hits home on Henry that there is a strong chance that Catherine could indeed die and he is left thinking, ” What if she should die? ” Henry realises there’s nothing he can do. That we are all part of some greater good. He knows that noone can make a difference to the situation – you can’t change the stars. Poor, poor dear Cat. This was the price you payed for sleeping together. This was the end of the trap. This is what people got for loving each other … So now they got her in the end. You never got away with anything. Get away hell! It would have been the same if we had married fifty times … Now Catherine would die. That’s what you did. You died. 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 you were caught off base, they killed you”
He suddenly understands that we are nothings. Just little creatures thinking we are getting through life – but we’re never really in control. There’s something greater out there who’s really in charge. And this message was the whole point of the book what Hemmingway wanted us all to learn. He sacraficed a happy ending and his main character’s happiness to show us what life really is. He even excluded simple things like adjectives in the text, which left a story full of facts that caused the impact to be harder hitting for us.