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How do we know to truly appreciate something if we don't know that it will come to an end? Can Fredrick Henry appreciate his own life and his relationship with Catherine Barkley without the present reality of death? The joy of all of what Catherine and life represented would be lost if death was not peering from around the corner like it does so much in the constant foreshadowing in this novel. Wallace Stevens, a poet, knew the importance of appreciating physical things because he knew that they would not be there forever, "Death is the mother of beauty, hence from her, / Alone, shall come fulfillment to our dreams / And our desires". Ernest Hemingway knew this as well, and we see that expressed in the loss that Fredrick endures. In the first section of the book he is not affected by the war and seems rather disconnected from the reality that is the war. The story is written in first person narration and this brings us as the audience closer to the action of the story and lets us be emotionally connected or disconnected like Fredrick as well. We are Fredrick Henry: "You do not know how long you are in a river when the current moves swiftly" (116). It isn't until Fredrick is injured that he begins to realize his involvement in the war and its potential to affect him. The naiveté about the war is explicit when Fredrick talks to Catherine about not being killed by the war: "Not in this war.
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Fredrick Henry begins the book alone; not alone meaning no one around, but without true companionship. As the novel develops he has friends of course, but not friends that you see him sharing a genuine love for. There is an absence of family as well, he doesn't have a family to be an example of family hood, friendship, how to provide, or anything; he speaks of being in touch with them but expresses it as an inconvenience to continue. His disillusionment of the war is not limited to himself, but also within other soldiers like the one in chapter seven who suggests a way to opt out of fighting. The relationships around him serve as an influence on his own outlook. Fortunately, Fredrick finds a companion in Rinaldi, who is a humanist that can be contrasted with the values of the priest. His relationship with Fredrick is warm, easy, and they express the same interests in beer and whores. They also share the same fear of an encounter with the opposite sex; Rinaldi and Fredrick have more then one drink of grappa before going to meet Catherine Barkley and her friend, Helen Ferguson. His relationship also changes with Rinaldi after he is injured, while Rinaldi is still able to be mobile and drink and find whores, Fredrick is in the hospital yearning for the one relationship that he has with Catherine, which Rinaldi warmly accepts and helps with by telling Catherine where Fredrick is. When Fredrick first begins his affair with Catherine he relates it to playing a game: "I did not love Catherine Barkley nor had any idea of loving her. This was a game, like bridge," (30). He tells us that his declaration for his love for Catherine is a lie but after the traumatic events in which he is removed from the action of the war he reunites with Catherine in Milan and declares his love for her and this time he means it. His maturity has grown from boy to man and his life has transformed from being lost without anyone to a life that someone cares for him and he cares back.
Throughout the book religion is always present, but it's a slight presence with more of an emphasis on love and faith. Fredrick Henry befriends a priest, the priest could be a true companion to Fredrick because that's what priests do, but there is also a genuine sense of respect for the friendship especially when Fredrick choose not to make fun of him like the other's in his unit do. Fredrick also possibly sees that the priest stands for something and doesn't want to jeopardize this connection. When Fredrick returned from his leave he knew he should have visited the priest in his home town of Abruzzi, instead he spent his free time going to bars and whorehouses. Fredrick's relation to the war and the unpleasantness of the world are disconnected through his activities with to much alcohol and unemotional sex. Some might deal with these unpleasant things by finding faith in God. Although he is respectful to religion, he is spiritually lost when we meet him: He admits that he does not love God but is afraid of him: " I am afraid of Him in the night sometimes' " and the priest reassures him that one day he will love God and be happy (72). We do see Fredrick Henry mature greatly in the novel, as his relationship with Catherine grows we see that he can truly love. Their love seems to take the place or substitute for any religion though and in the time of his deepest desperation is when he truly seeks God and wants his help. In the American hospital Fredrick says, "I was clean inside and out and waiting for the doctor" as he looks out over the rooftops at the sunlit cathedral. His character seems to change immensely when he spends his entire summer with Catherine; love has made him less insecure: he doesn't pick fights anymore like the potential of one with the men on the train. Fredrick tells Count Greffi that what he values most is someone he loves and that he "might become very devout" (263). Catherine rejected organized faith, "You're my religion,' " and yet she isn't a doubter of faith. She lived by a definite value system, and what she valued was love (116). When the baby is born and Fredrick regrets that the baby is not baptized he still admits that he is agnostic as does Catherine when she is admitted to the hospital. Fredrick's view is there is no point in believing in God in a world that kills the people that we love, but as anyone would, he tries bargaining with God in his anxiety at Catherine's looming death. You can argue that Catherine and Fredrick make a religion out of their love, but their love does not save them in the end, a true religion is never established, but love did help shape Fredrick into being a more mature human being and he will always have that to grow from.
The doom was destined to come through playful conversation that is clearly foreshadowing:
" Hell," I said, I love you enough now. What do you want to do? Ruin me?'
Yes. I want to ruin you.'
Good,' I said that's what I want too' " (305).
When Fredrick walks out of the hospital at the end of the novel, he is a different man than he was in the beginning. Ruined? Not entirely but changed. He has matured to a level that any woman would admire and now understands the world and his place in it. Sadly in the reality of it all, again he is alone, with some sense of lost ness, developed from his relationships, and without Catherine, he has lost his religion. This ending is so completely moving, and Hemingway knew how to invoke the spirits of his readers, thus my justification.