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This book is about an american named Frederic Henry. He has joined the Italian army and serves as an ambulance driver. His roommate and best friend, Rinaldi, is fond of a British nurse, Catherine Barkley, who works at a nearby British hospital. Henry visits the hospital with Rinaldi and finds Catherine very attractive. Rinaldi notices the attraction between them and leaves them alone. At first Henry just wants a physical relationship with Catherine. She realises it and indirectly explains that she does not approve of it. She has lost her husband during the war and are afraid of being abandoned once again. Nevertheless Henry manages to convince Catherine that he loves her.
An approaching offensive dispatches Frederic Henry back to the front. While he is sitting with his men in a dugout eating, a trench mortar shell suddenly explodes and blasts open the shelter. Many men are killed and Henry’s both legs are severly wounded. At first he is taken to a field hospital where he meets Rinaldi. A few days later he is transfered to an american hospital in Milan.
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When Henry first arrives at the hospital the doctor is away at another clinic. Therefor Henry has to wait a couple of days for the treatment to begin. When the doctor finally arrives he and two other colleagues decide that it is best for Henry to rest six months before they perform the operation. However, Henry refuses to accept the fact that he has to stay in bed for such a long time and therefor consults another doctor. This fourth doctor declares that Henry is fit to be operated the following morning. The surgery is successful and Henry gets better.
During his recovery he spends most of his days with Catherine. At one time he goes with Catherine and some friends to the horse races. Henry and Catherine get tips from their friends and therefor manage to bid upon winning horses. However they do not win a lot of money because of the odds. So they decide to go on their intuition and put money on a horse which no one else has bet upon. It makes them feel better, even though they do not win. The episode shows that the only way to win is to take risks and that you should try to go your own way. You should follow your heart and instincts because you’re the only person who knows what makes you happy.
After a while Henry is in such condition that he can return to the front. He does so and ends up in a big retreat where he is seperated from his men. During the retreat the vehicles get stuck in the mud and because of the delay, two soldiers try to escape. In preventing their attempted escape Henry starts to shoot and kills one of the soldiers. The mud illustrates man’s inferiority and impossibility to have control over life. We are very dependent on nature and chance.
The italians are not happy about the setback and try to find someone to blame. Frederic Henry, who is lieutenant, has been seperated from his men and speaks italian with an accent, is not safe. He can easily be accused of not having control over his men, not defending the positions or of being a german infiltrator. Henry is confronted with the battle police but manages to flee before they shoot him. It becomes the definite break with the army. He returns to Catherine and together they go to Switzerland by boat. In Switzerland they are arrested, but since both have foreign passports they are eventually released.
They decide to go to Montreux where they enjoy life, have a good rest and walk in the nature. They stay in a cabin close to Montreux all the winter but in the spring they return to town, partly because the bad weather but also because it is time for Catherine to give birth to their child. The delivery drags on and Henry becomes more and more concerned. Finally the doctor informs him that it is not possible to deliver the child naturally. Catherine has to be operated and they agree of implementing a Caesarean. The doctor delivers the child but only to discover that it is dead. Furthermore Catherine has got an injury sustained during the childbirth, a hemorrhage. Her condition is very critical and both Catherine and Henry realises that she won’t survive. Henry says goodbye to his beloved wife and then leaves the hospital in the rain. Rain is a very common phenomenon in the book which occurs when something bad takes place, for instance during the retreat. Like rain, the happiness and misfortune are very unpredictable and vary swiftly.
The main character in this book is Frederic Henry. As I have mentioned before he is an american volunteer in the Italian army during the First World War. He is a rather laid back and social person who likes to drink alcohol and spend time with his friends. Henry does not value abstract qualities like honor and duty but is a quite simple man. Instead of planning and trying to decide what is going to happen he is very relaxed and act not until he is confronted with the problems. Therefor he often does whatever he wants to without considering the consequenses, you can say that he does not take life so seriously. In spite of his detachment to life he is a good man and rather well-disciplined. He is hard working, has become lieutenant and when he is injured he insists that the medical orderlies should help the most badly wounded men first.
In the beginning he does not reflect so much about life and does not try to affect it. He sees the war as an exciting experience and does not fight for a cause, a reason or patriotism but just for the princip. Because of his love to Catherine, he becomes more sceptic, aware of his situation and discovers what’s important in life. His relationship with Catherine shows that he is very passionate, stubborn and generous.
I think that this is a very good book because of the realistic descriptions. They are concise, honest, unaffected and do not include nonsense and episodes that are unessential to the story. Since everything which is not important has been left out it is very easy to follow the plot. The descriptions of the environments also are very vivid because of the precise, tangible and not at all muddled details. However the book sometimes becomes a little bit too harsh. Digressions and exaggerations are at times necessary to make the book more exciting and lively. One thing that I appreciate about this book is that it is not just revolving around the hardships and how horrible the war is like many other books in the same genre but also describes the passionate love between Henry and Catherine. The contrast between the beautiful love and the war is very striking.
I think the message in this book is that you should not take anything for granted. Henry’s happy and light-hearted life is in one night transformed into the worst nightmare. You can never know what’s going to happen and therefor you should be very humble and expect the unexpected. I also think that Hemingway declares that conceptions like glory, moral and justice are very diffuse and should not be taken so seriously. It is only conventions invented by religion and society to segregate people. “A Farewell To Arms” is, because of the realistic description of the war as brutal, meaningless and horrible, also an anti-war novel.