A Farewell to Arms is the book of Frederic Henry, an American driving an ambulance for the Italian Army during World War I. The book takes us through Frederic's experiences in war and his love affair with Catherine Barkley, an American nurse in Italy. The book starts in the northern mountains of Italy at the beginning of World War I. Rinaldi, Frederic's roommate, takes him to visit a nurse he has taken a liking to. Catherine Barkley, the nurse Rinaldi speaks of, is instantly attracted to Frederic and likewise.
At the front, Frederic is wounded in the legs and taken to an aid station and then to an army hospital. He is then transferred to an American hospital in Milan where he meets up with Catherine again. Their love flourishes. They spend their nights together in Frederic's hospital bed and their days going to restaurants, horse races and taking carriage rides.
Frederic returns to the war after his recovery. The war is going badly in Italy. The German troops forced a full-scale retreat. Soon after Frederic's return, he deserts the war in a daring escape. Frederic leaves and meets a pregnant Catherine in Stresa.
The two go over to Switzerland where they spend an peaceful time waiting for the birth of their baby. Catherine has a long and difficult labor. Their baby is delivered dead. Catherine dies soon after from "one hemorrhage after another." After Catherine dies, Frederic leaves and walks back to his hotel. A Farewell to Arms is a story of love and pain and of loyalty and desertion set in the tragic time of war.
There are many similarities in the experiences of Ernest Hemingway and his character Frederic Henry in A Farewell to Arms. Hemingway and Henry were both involved in World War I, in a medical capacity, but neither of them were regular army personnel. Like Hemingway, Henry was shot in his right knee during a battle. Both men were Americans but were ambulan...
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...ed, social responsibility, and social concern." Henry, like Hemingway, leads a private life as a detached, isolated individual. He socializes with the officers, talks with the priest and visits the officer's brothel, but maintains only superficial relationships. The only relationship that means anything to him is Catherine, which is Hemingway's Agnes, both of which are isolated relationships. Johnson says about Hemingway, "He will solve the problem of dealing with the world by taking refuge in individualism and isolated personal relationships and sensations" (Gellens 112-113). Happiness comes for Hemingway and Henry only when they are in these relationships, away from the pressures of society and their lives.
Ernest Hemingway once gave some advice to his fellow writer F. Scott Fitzgerald. If something in life hurts you, you should use it in your writing. In writing a Farewell to Arms, Hemingway followed his own advice. In many ways, Frederic Henry was a psychological parallel to Hemingway. The painful experiences of his own life, which were consciously and unconsciously placed in this novel, helped make it a major literary achievement.
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