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A Farewell To Arms

Updated November 1, 2018

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A Farewell To Arms That fall, Henry and Catherine live in a brown wooden house on the side of a mountain. They enjoy the company of Mr. and Mrs. Guttingen, who live downstairs, and they remain very happy together; sometimes they walk down the mountain path in Montreux.

One day Catherine gets her hair done in Montreux, and afterwards they go to have a beer–Catherine thinks beer is good for the baby, because it will keep it small; she is worried about the baby’s size because the doctor has said she has a narrow pelvis. They talk again about getting married, but Catherine wants to wait until after the baby is born when she will be thin again. Three days before Christmas, the snow comes. Catherine asks Henry if he feels restless, and he says no, though he does wonder about his friends on the front, such as Rinaldi and the priest. Henry decides to grow a beard and by mid-January, he has one. Through January and February he and Catherine remain very happy; in March they move into town to be near the hospital.

They stay in a hotel there for three weeks; Catherine buys baby clothes, Henry works out in the gym, and they both feel that the baby will arrive soon. Finally, around three o’clock one morning, Catherine goes into labor. They go to the hospital, where Catherine is given a nightgown and a room. She encourages Henry to go out for breakfast, and he does, talking to the old man who serves him.

When he returns to the hospital, he finds that Catherine has been taken to the delivery room. He goes in to see her; the doctor stands by, and Catherine takes an anaesthetic gas when her contractions become very painful. At two o’clock in the afternoon, Henry goes out for lunch. He goes back to the hospital; Catherine is now intoxicated from the gas. The doctor thinks her pelvis is too narrow to allow the baby to pass through, and advises a Caesarian section. Catherine suffers unbearable pain and pleads for more gas.

Finally they wheel her out on a stretcher to perform the operation. Henry watches the rain outside. Soon the doctor comes out and takes Henry to see the baby, a boy. Henry has no feeling for the child. He then goes to see Catherine, and at first worries that she is dead.

When she asks him about their son, he tells her he was fine, and the nurse gives him a quizzical look. Ushering him outside, the nurse tells him that the boy is not fine–he strangled on the umbilical cord, and never began to breathe. He goes out for dinner, and when he returns the nurse tells him that Catherine is hemorrhaging. He is filled with terror that she will die. When he is allowed to see her, she tells him she will die, and asks him not to say the same things to other girls. Henry goes into the hallway while they try to treat Catherine, but nothing works; finally, he goes back into the room and stays with her until she dies.

The doctor offers to drive him back to the hotel, but Henry declines. He goes back into the room and tries to say good-bye to Catherine, but says that it was like saying good-bye to a statue. He leaves the hospital and walks back to his hotel in the rain. Commentary Henry and Catherines simple domestic rituals in the first half of this section illustrate their simple happiness together, and make the tragedy of the second half of the section all the more painful. Catherine’s haircut, Henry’s new beard, their walks through the mountains, and their time with the Guttingens all signify a world that Henry and Catherine have longed for, devoid of war and filled with tranquil time together.

Throughout this section, however, as throughout the novel, Hemingway uses subtle actions and words to foreshadow Catherine’s death, such as her attempt to keep the baby small by drinking beer. Images linking pregnancy to war and death have been peppered throughout the novel, even in the first chapter, where Henry says that the soldiers holding their rifles under their capes looked six months gone with child. This subtle foreshadowing creates a current of expectation–the reader at least senses that Catherine’s pregnancy will be fatal–utterly opposed to the domestic bliss and optimism with which Catherine and Henry now live their lives. Henry giving Catherine the anaesthetic gas at the beginning of Chapter 41, for instance, shows his tender but unworried desire to help her, but the obsessive need Catherine shows for the gas indicates to the reader that all is not well.

The tension in both the reader’s and the characters’ expectations builds throughout Catherine’s labor, and contributes to the heart-wrenching effect of her death: Henry believed Catherine would live, and though we know better, we want to believe him. Catherine’s death, when it comes, achieves the highest tragedy in plain understated terms: It seems she had one hemorrhage after another. They couldn’t stop it. I went into the room and stayed with Catherine until she died. Catherine’s death and the novel’s tragic ending are made ambiguous by their failure to initiate an epiphany in Frederic Henry. He does not seem to learn anything from her death, or to feel any catharsis after it, except what he possibly already knew and already felt: that the universe is hostile and painful, and the only thing he can do is live his life with clarity and honesty.

In many ways, A Farewell to Arms is simply an illustration of that theme: war and love both lead to violence and death, and tragedy follows happiness as quickly as it follows misery. The rain that follows Henry and Catherine throughout the novel is a perfect simple symbol of the malevolence of the universe; Catherine fears it, and it comes down relentlessly at every turn, even at her death. After she dies, Henry never interprets her death; that interpretation came in Chapter 34, when he thought of the world killing the good and the brave. But after describing Catherine’s death in Chapter 41, he simply tells how he walked back to the hotel in the rain, somewhat lost and alone in the world–as, A Farewell to Arms seems to say, we all are.

Love can be an antidote for the painful feelings of war, but it does not change the basic unforgiving hardness of the world. English Essays.

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A Farewell To Arms. (2018, Dec 10). Retrieved from