The Barman: Character Analysis in A Farewell To Arms

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      The Barman at the Grand Hotel is another key but minor character. He appears quite friendly to Frederic Henry as Henry had stayed in the Grand Hotel on previous occasions also. When he and Henry meet, there is a friendly banter about some American pipe tobacco that Henry had promised to send but didn’t. Henry kids him saying ‘did you ever get the tobacco I sent ?” and he answers “Yes, Didn’t you get my card?” Later when Henry enquires about two English nurses, saying “one of them is my wife, I have come to meet her”, he replies “The other is my wife”, obviously under the impression that Henry was joking and also because he couldn’t believe that someone like Henry could get married and settle down. Like everybody else, the Barman is also tired of the war and is inquisitive of war news. He also asks Henry about the war like Count Greffi but Henry again refuses to talk about the war.

Fishing with Henry

      The Barman and Henry are like old friends meeting after a long time He is enthusiastic about fishing as a hobby and even has a boat. He and Henry go fishing on his boat. The introduction of this boat is important. It is this boat that shall be the vehicle of Henry’s escape to Switzerland. When they return from the fishing trip they enjoy a few drinks together.

His Warning to Henry

      In the middle of the night, the Barman comes to Henry’s room to warn him that he had heard that Henry was going to be arrested the next morning. The people had noticed that Henry was now out of uniform and had become suspicious. The Barman, therefore, advises Henry that they should run away to Switzerland and even offers his boat. He tells Henry, that the weather is rough but it will soon improve. They should leave immediately. Catherine and Henry promptly get ready to depart. The Barman helps them in every way. He picks up their baggage and carry them to the boat while they calmly walk out of front door. At the lake where the boat is moored, they meet again and Catherine expresses her thanks for his invaluable help. But the Barman says, “That’s nothing, Lady. I’m glad to help you just so I don’t’ get in trouble myself.” The Barman is therefore just an ordinary human being, kind and considerate towards others. He has no other motive besides being helpful. He even refuses when Henry offers to pay him for the boat. He says, that they can pay him only if they successfully reach the other side of the lake. He has even packed something for them to eat and drink during their night-long journey Henry wants to pay for the sandwiches and brandy at least. The Barman says all right. Then he instructs them on how to reach Switzerland. They have to row up the lake past various places until they came to Brissago. Then they have to pass Monte Tamara. It was eleven at night. He instructs them that they would reach by seven in the morning. The Barman is capable and knowledgeable about the area and the weather. The wind was blowing and it was raining. Henry feels they shall need a compass. But he assures him that there was no need. They just had to go with the wind and it shall take them. The wind won’t change for the next three days so they could also be sure that it wouldn’t blow them off course.

Good Samaritan

      The Barman is an example of the good Samaritan. His good heartedness and sincerity is really to be admired. He has no selfish motive in helping Henry and Catherine. He can on the other hand be interpreted as a Deux de machine, if he doesn’t come to warn Henry of his impending arrest on his own initiative then Henry and Catherine idyll in the mountains would not have followed. He not only supplies timely information, but he also provides the means to escape namely, his boat. He represents therefore, the good in human nature and it is cheering thought that in the midst of war and turmoil people have not lost their basic goodness.


      Our discussion of the minor characters in the novel leads to the following conclusions. They are very, very minor from the point of view of the plot. They appear in one or two scenes and completely disappear. They are just figures that form the background in the journey transferred by Henry the main protagonist. They serve to heighten the realism of the novel and therefore they are also quite memorable characters. They all serve to lighten the mood and so are humorous in intent. Also, when Henry comes in contact with each of them certain aspect of his characteristics are revealed. Then none of them are contrived characters all are drawn convincingly. Only the Barman’s role is seen a bit stretched. On the whole they are remarkable for being minor but key characters.

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