Illustration of Private Habitation in A Farewell To Arms

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Private Versus Public

      That A Farewell to Arms is about the outside world being rejected as it is only in the private world that happiness can be found, is a fairly correct estimate of the novel. At the beginning of the novel, we find both the hero and the heroine, Henry and Catherine taking considerable interest in the war. Henry has joined the war for no particular reason whereas Catherine joined as a nurse to be near her fiance who was however killed. Thus both are in the humanitarian section and though neither has any patriotic or nationalistic obligation both are actively in the war. They are however non-combatants and not in any overt danger.

Initial Involvement with the Outside World

      At the beginning of the novel, the outside world plays a large part. Though neither Henry nor Catherine are very deeply involved with the war, nor very enthusiastic about it. Henry is a casual participant, but he is very much in the midst of things. He is not an active participant but an active spectator therefore he is ever much in the outside world. Henry carries out his duties efficiently and honestly, but he has no illusions about his role and is rather disappointed that he is not indispensable in his unit. His reason for being in the war is not specified. Neither he is much concerned about the war. It doesn’t seem to be more dangerous than the war in the movies. However, Henry wishes that it was over. His impersonal attitude to the war and his unconcern are to be noted. Already, he is in the process of rejecting society and the world. He has no zest or fervor for the war, world or society. On the other hand, his involvement with Catherine too is also a casual involvement. He had no idea of loving her. It was only a game and he came to her only because he found it better than going to the brothel. Catherine realizes that he is only indulging in a game and calls it a rotten game. Both are clearly not deeply involved in any way but they are both very much in the social war and in the war. They have lot of social connections and affiliations. Catherine is a deep friend of Ferguson and Henry is attached to Rinaldi, the priest and his fellow officers at the officer’s mess. Henry visits the girls in the brothels regularly. This also signify his attachment and involvement with the outside world. Henry and Rinaldi have a bantering easy relationship which bespeaks a deeper attachment. Henry also regards the priest highly who advises him to go to Abruzzi, a place of peace and contentment and defines love for him. Henry says of the priest, “we were still friends”.

Henry: A Closer Connection with the World

      Henry’s deeper involvement in the war and thus society can be seen in the subsequent chapter where Henry goes on duty at the front where the offensive was. Here, we see him trying to help a man who had deliberately wounded himself to avoid opening to the front and later we see him procuring a dugout for his drivers to hide themselves and food for everybody. He talks to the Major and discusses the war with his driver. He is quite efficient in carrying out his duties and he is quite friendly to everyone. While they are having their food, an Austrian shell explodes above them, killing Passini, wounding several others. Henry is himself severely wounded in the legs and head. In the field hospital, Rinaldi comes to see him and cheers him up as also the priest who brings quite practical gifts. These visits signify Henry’s strong contact with society, the outside world.

Development of Love

      As Henry is transferred to the American hospital in Milan, where Catherine also comes, the ground is cleared for the development of the love affair that had begun and progressed some at the front. Henry had begun to feel that little bit more in his attitude to Catherine. Now as she enters his room, the sudden realization on his part that he really loved her is cataloged. The “game” that he began with is now at end. They now step towards an abiding relationship which shall eventually lead to their mountain retreat and romantic bliss. Henry and Catherine become lovers and Henry says, “It was lovely in the nights.... Besides all the big times, we also had many small ways of making love”. Catherine has completely surrendered himself to Henry and her surrender is unconditional and total. She tells Henry, “Don’t make up a separate me. There isn’t any me. I’m you”. She further tells him that “you are my religion. You are all I’ve got”. He is the center of the universe for her. Henry proposes coverages. But she refuses. Not because she doesn’t love him enough but because marriage would mean a separation as the authorities would sent her back home and she would then be unable to see Henry as he would not be able to come and see her. She feels married anyway without it being formalized or legalized. She talks about being a good wife to Henry and Henry also feels married. He finds her “lovely” and sweet and his love which began with carnal attraction begins to develop into the kind of love as defined by the priest of serving and sacrificing for the one that one loves. However in the midst of all this, love during the summer in Milan they are very much in the social scene. The doctors and nurses and even the patients are their friends and they have a great time with them also. They go out together to eat at restaurants or at the horse-races. They are also friends with others such as Mr. and Mrs. Myers, Ettore Moretti the Major who bores everyone with his war exploits, the two singers and their hilarious capers, etc. etc. So, even though they are very much in love and in themselves, they are also very much involved with the rest of society and the world.

Henry’s Return to War and His Desertion

      The summer comes to an end and so also Henry’s period of convalescence. He has to go back to the front and so takes leave of Catherine. On the war front, he finds everybody disgusted and depressed by the war. The war has dragged on, Italy has suffered enormous loss and so everybody has been in a blue funk. Rinaldi is overworked and exhausted. Plus he is tense that he may have contacted syphillis. Hence he is depressed. The priest can no longer believe in defeat or victory and he is depressed too. The officer’s mess has become a gloomier place as compared to the earlier cheerful place where everyone used to tease the priest. On the front Henry discusses the war and the concepts of patriotism with Gino and his other drivers. He expresses his feeling of disgust with words such as ‘glory, honor, courage and the expression in vain’. He feels that they are obscene words as compared to the concrete names of place, streets etc. The Italians had been losing the war and an order to Retreat is given. Henry has to take his ambulances to Pordenone. As he and his drivers progresses, Henry comes in close contact with the harsh realities of the war. He sees that the whole country is moving and the rain and the mud and the people stall movement. He is forced to shoot at the two sergeants, gives Bonello permission to kill the one he hits and witness the death of Piani at the hands of the Italian rear guard and Bonello’s desertion. He also encounters the Italian Military Police executing officers after summary trials. He himself is arrested and he is sure that they shall execute him too, on the charge of being a German in Italian uniform. Henry takes a swift decision and jumps into “the Tagliamento river and swims away.

First Step in Leaving the World

      His plunge into the river is his first and significant step towards leaving the public world and moving to private isolation. Uptill his escape he had been in the midst of the world. Though he had been expressing his disgust and witnessing the horrors of war he had been with his drivers. Now as he escapes and thinks over the events he feels that any anger or obligation that he had towards the army or war had all been washed away in the river. He was thorough with the war. He had nothing to do with it anymore and he has made a ‘Separate Peace’. Now he only thinks of eating, drinking and sleeping and sleeping with Catherine and being with her and never going away except together. Henry has therefore made a step towards the isolated private world that shall come into being in the mountains.

The Beginning of the Private World

      Henry has discarded his uniform and now comes in search of Catherine. He refuses to talk about the war with the people he meets and doesn’t even read the paper. He and Catherine are reunited at Stressa and immediately sets up house in the Grand hotel. It is at this stage that Henry feels that “we could feel alone when we were together, alone against the others....But we were never lonely and never afraid when we were together”. They are now on the threshold of an isolated existence even though Henry cannot completely break away from society nor can Catherine. Henry talks with the Barman, goes fishing with him and plays billiards with Count Greffi. Catherine also has the occasional lunch with Helen Ferguson. Henry reflects on the cruelty of the world which killed everyone impartially. But at this point he has not rejected this world totally. He and Catherine have begun to live within themselves but have not forgotten or left their worldly and social connections.

A World Made up of Two

      On being told that Henry might be arrested in the morning, the lovers takes the help of the Barman and flee to Switzerland. There they set up an isolated existence in the mountains of Montreux. They establish a paradise, a romantic bliss, inhabited by none but themselves. The war is far, far away. The outside world doesn’t interest them and has ceased to exist for them. They do not need other companies and they do not know anyone except Catherine’s hairdresser in Montreux. Perfectly content in their idyll, they talk of themselves and their baby only. Catherine again refuses to marry him saying she didn’t want to get married in her fully pregnant state. She would when she became slim and beautiful again after the delivery. Anyway, she tells him that under American law, their child would become legitimate the moment they married. Both are content with one another. They talk about their isolation asking the other if they wanted to see other people. Catherine says “I should think sometimes you would want to see other people besides me” and Henry answers with a counter question, “Do you want to see other people”. Then they both assure the other that they have no wish to see other people. There is complete peace in their life. Catherine wants to cut her hair and Henry to grow hair a bit more so that they shall look alike. She wants him so much that she wants to be him too and he says “we’re the same one”. Further Henry says, I m no good when you are not there. I haven’t any life anymore”. They are therefore perfectly happy in their isolated idyll.


      We can therefore conclude that upto this stage, A Farewell to Arms, is about how the lovers come across paradise but have to give it up due to the outside world (war) and can only regain it in the confines of their private habitation. Henry and Catherine fall in love and are separated and find bliss again. In the end however, Catherine and Henry have to leave their idyll and come down to Laussane as Catherine’s delivery date draws near and she dies in childbirth. This again endorses the view that paradise is achieved only in isolation as Catherine dies leaving Henry devastated due to the intrusion of a third person (their child) and in the midst of humanity.

University Questions also can be Answered:

In A Farewell to Arms, the private idyll is intruded upon and destroyed by the public world. Comment.
Critically analyze how “The outside world in A Farewell to Arms slowly shrinks and falls into the background and the paradise is regained in the confines of one’s private habitation”.

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