A Farewell To Arms: as A Farewell To Love and War

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      The title of the novel A Farewell to Arms points to two interpretations. In the first instance, it is the protagonist Frederic Henry’s farewell to war, the weapons and machinery of war. On the other hand, is Henry’s farewell to his beloved Catherine Barkley. The title thus points to the two different parting of ways forced on Henry. One occurring as the climax of the novel and the other as the inevitable denouncement. Both are significant for being the crux behind the revelation of Hemingway’s philosophy that a man may next death anywhere, is a world stripped of all values and man is controlled by a force and one has learned to tolerate and live with it.

Frederic’s Involvement with War

      Frederic Henry, the protagonist of the novel is concerned with two things. One is the war, here the World War I and he is participating as an American serving the Italian army as a lieutenant in the Ambulance unit. The other aspect is Catherine Barkley an English nurse, whom he meets in the Italian war front. Nothing is ever clearly specified why he joins the army and thus the war. His attitude to war in the beginning is very casual. He has no ideals and no commitment. For him, it is just like any other job. And the war doesn’t really concern him. He is a non-combatant and since he is away from the real fighting the effects of war doesn’t bother him much. He knew he would not be killed. And to him, the war was not more dangerous than the war in the movies. However, he also wishes it were over. He doesn’t really enjoy being in the midst of war. Later on it is evident that he is a conscientious man. He performs his duties responsibly and is even rather disappointed that he wasn’t indispensable to the unit under him. On the other hand life is a fling for him. He is having a good time indulging in wine and women. The atrocities and the reality of war are not his concern and he is hardly acquitted with the brutal horror and despair of war.

Facing the Grimness of War

      Henry is however drawn to a realization of the grimness of the war. First of all, he encounters a man who had deliberately wounded himself to get away from the front. Later, he himself is very seriously wounded. He witnesses hordes of other wounded soldiers in the hospital, and he sees one of his drivers dying right in front of his eyes. The picture of the soldier bleeding to death is truly horrible. He also comes to know of the thousands and thousands of soldiers killed in the war. He also comes face to face with the men depressed and almost broken by the war namely the officers at the front as he returns from the hospital arid Rinaldi and the priest.

The Retreat and Henry’s Disillusionment

      Henry’s slow and steady recognition of the brutal realities of war is complete in the account of the Caporetto retreat. The retreat which begins in an orderly way as orderly as an offensive disintegrates into a confused mayhem. Soldiers, peasants with their families and worldly possessions, deserting soldiers young girls separated from their families muddled together is a confused column. To compound things the rain and the mud and the roads blocked and the army scared of anything and ready to shoot at anything and in the midst of this Austrian and German soldiers going about. Henry witnesses all this and participates and suffers. He has to abandon his ambulance cars, shot the sergeants who refuse to help, run to avoid the German and again witness the murder of one of his drivers at the hands of Italian soldiers. He is now completely disillusioned from his idea of the “picturesque front” as he is accosted by the Battle police and face possible execution on the charge of deserting his post or for being a German in Italian uniforms.

Farewell to War

      It is at this moment that Henry bids farewell to the war. To escape death, he plunges into the Tagliamento river and flees from the army, the Battle police, the war. He has deserted the army. Henry at this moment bids farewell to ‘Arms’ in the sense of war. He is out of the war. He has no more anger or obligation. Both he has been washed away when he jumped into the view. He is ‘through’ that is he is finished with the war and he wishes Italian army and the military police all the luck. He now wants to completely forget the war and thinks only of Catherine and be with her. He has made a “separate peace”. Thus towards the middle of the novel, Frederic Henry, the protagonist having come to realization of war the hard way bids farewell to war. Though he is haunted by guilty feelings about the war and his desertion from time to time, he has no wish to go back to the war. He wants nothing to do with war anymore. He doesn’t even wish to talk about it.

Henry’s Involvement with Love

      Henry’s love affair with Catherine follows a similar pattern of development as in the case of war. He meets Catherine through Rinaldi an Italian surgeon and his roommate at the front. At first, he has a very casual attitude towards her. He goes to see her only because it was better than going to the girls in the officer’s brothels and it was better option. It is also mere sexual satisfaction that he is seeking from Catherine, for him everything the relationship, Catherine is a game like a game of cards like bridge where one played for stakes. Only he didn’t know what the stakes were. However all these changes gradually, one evening he suddenly feels empty and lonely at being unable to meet her. Later in the Milan Hospital, he admits how he had never wanted to be in love with Catherine or anyone and how he had not truly fallen in love with Catherine. From this point, his love still based on sexual and carnal pleasures develop more towards a spiritual kind as defined by the priest. During this stay together in the Hospital in Milan, Henry’s love for Catherine grows to the extent that he wants to marry her because he cares for her and is anxious of what might happen if something happened to him. However, full commitment is still in doubt because he says that when Catherine refused to marry him he was really glad. Later again he admits how Catherine always made a “home” of wherever they were and he also felt faint with loving her too much. As he had truly come to realize war and been fully involved with it during the retreat, so now Henry is truly in love with Catherine. He thinks of Catherine as he flees from the army and comes scratching for her. As they are reunited they share a happy time together and again in running away to Switzerland bid a complete and total farewell to the war. In the mountains of Switzerland, they lead an idyllic life completely submerged in one another and totally isolated from the world. However, they have to come back into the midst of humanity as the time for Catherine’s delivery approaches. They leave their mountain idyll and come to Lausane.

Farewell to Love

      As Catherine goes into labor things take a complicated turn. She goes into a difficult and protracted labor. The doctor ultimately recommends a cesarean. However even this proves futile as the baby is stillborn. Henry is so devastated that he is numb. For the first time religious thoughts came into his mind. He wished that the baby had been baptized. He even prays to God fervently that he spares Catherine. But in spite of all the doctors efforts Catherine dies due to one hemorrhage after another. And Henry is left with nothing. He bids farewell to Catherine for the last time but it was useless. It was like saying goodbye to a statue. And having said goodbye to love and attachment he walks away.


      During the course of the novel, Henry comes to both war and love without knowing what is really meant. Eventually, he comes to recognize and realize the truth of both. The realization of the brutality of war forces him to desert the army and flee from his duty. He feels guilty from time to time but he is glad to be away from the war. On the other hand, Love is what he comes to; after fleeing the war. However, he is again forced to leave love and the woman he loved with whom he was hoping to lead an idyllic life as she dies in childbirth. The two farewells in the novel as embodied in the title, therefore points to Henry’s disillusionment. It is a statement of how man has to realize the futilities of life and how he has to learn to bear with it. One cannot escape life.

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