The Priest: Character Analysis in A Farewell To Arms

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      The most important minor character in the novel is the Priest. He plays a small but very significant role in the story.

The Butt of Jokes

      The priest is introduced at the very beginning of the story. And we are shown how the officers of the Italian army in Henry’s mess make him the target of their ridicule. They freely make fun of him and call him priest-baiting. However, he is impervious to their taunts and calmly puts up with them. The officers tease him by accusing him of loving the company of girls and spending a lot of time with them, others accuse him of being an atheist and yet another, of wanting the Austrians to win the war. However, the priest is not hurt by these obscene remarks because he understands that there is no real malice behind them and the men indulge in it due to the stress of the war. He is very good-hearted and doesn’t mind when they teasingly invite him to the brothel.

A Good Friend to Henry

      Henry and the priest become good friends. They chat quite a lot. As Henry is about to go on leave, he earnestly wages him to visit Abruzzi his hometown. He assures him that it is a beautiful place where he can enjoy hunting. He tells Henry, “You would like the people and though it is cold it is clear and dry”. He is offering Henry the alternative and opposite to the war front which is cold, hazy and muddy and wet. When Henry returns having spent his time in the big cities indulging in casual sex, he is really disappointed. He had actually written to his father and they had made preparations for his arrival. But the priest’s affection does not diminish in any way. And says “And we were still friends, with many tastes alike, but with the difference between us. He had always known what I did not know and what, when I learned it. I was always able to forget”. Henry thus acknowledges the priest’s superior wisdom. He is glad that he has the priest for a friend.

Concern for Henry

      The priest is quite concerned about Henry and like Rinaldi takes a lot of interest in him and his well-being. For example, as Henry lay wounded in the Hospital, he comes to inquires about his health bringing thoughtful things like a mosquito net, a bottle of vermouth, some English newspaper etc. They chat, the priest is solicitous about Henry’s health. He also tells him that he was still the target of the officer’s jokes in the mess.

His Definition of Love

      The priest talks to Henry about his hate and love. He hates the war and he would love to return to Abruzzi and live a quiet life, loving and serving God. The priest then urges Henry to love God. He tries to tell Henry what true love is and differentiate it from the lust that Henry usually indulges in. He tells Henry “what you told me about in the nights, that is not love. That is only passion and lust.” Then he tells Henry that when one really loves somebody then you wish to do things for the person. You wish to sacrifice for your loved one you wish to serve. This clearly brings out the difference in the attitude to love between Henry, Rinaldi and himself. He assures Henry that one day he shall love and then he shall be happy. He says he has always loved God and was happy.

Depressed by the War

      Later when Henry returns to Gorizia after his long convalescents, the priest comes to see him as soon as he gets the news about his arrival. There have been several changes in the priest during this intervening period. He has become totally insensitive to the taunts and the baiting of the officers. Rinaldi is mercilessly shown pulling his leg but he merely smiles. The priest-like everybody else is depressed by the war. He hopes that the fighting will one day end. And he is discouraged when Henry says it might not get over. For a long time he had hoped for victory. But now seeing the war condition he knows that it is not possible and he is depressed. His depression makes Henry uncomfortable too.

Significance of His Role

      The priest appears at the beginning of the novel and disappears somewhere midway. He appears in three-four chapters only. Therefore, he plays no great part in the plot development of the novel. However, he is an important character because he was a certain symbolic significance in the novel. He is a man of the clothes. He represents divine love. He gives definitions of love and war. About love be says, true love is neither lust nor passion, true love means service and sacrifice. He also urges Henry to love God and assures him that one day he too shall fall in love and be a happy person. This in effect comes true. Henry moves towards his definition of secular love in his affair with Catherine and also moves towards God towards the end. This can be seen in his desperate prayer to God to save Catherine. The idea here is that he represents the ideal kind of love that Hemingway wishes to define and set up as a measuring stone to compare and contrast Henry’s love as it develops. The priest also serves as a contrast to Rinaldi. He is hardly disturbed by Rinaldi’s taunts. His definition of love is a pure contrast to Rinaldi’s concept of carnal relationships for pleasure. Both he and Rinaldi are depressed by the war but it was his belief in God and a spiritual strength that sustains him. Rinaldi doesn’t and he is slowly shattered by the war and his concept of love. The priest also serves to emphasize certain aspects of Henry’s characteristics i.e., the positiveness in Henry— his wish to go to Abruzzi and later his love for Catherine. The priest is also a man of commitment. He also has the discipline of the Hemingway code hero. He also thus belongs to the category of code characters.

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