Hemingway's portrayal of Catherine Barkley in A Farewell to Arms is a subject of many debates. I do not agree with Judith Fetterly that Catherine is "too idealistic, too selflessly loving and giving. Catherine's death was the most fitting end to the story. Hemingway's Catherine Barkley may be stereotypical on the surface, but is a much more knowledgeable and strong character underneath.
In the early encounter with Henry, Hemingway sets up Catherine's major faults. She is shown to us as not being emotionally stable. She says to Henry, "We're going to have a strange life"(27). This sounds crazy to us, who typically don't believe that you can know you will have any kind of life with anyone you have just met. This is a time of war, however, and Catherine knows more than we do.She certainly knows more than Henry. She knows that it is a strange time and that loss is a reality. Because she is aware of the constant real threat of loss, this makes her deal with everything as if life was going to end very shortly. This type of thinking is an understandable method of defense against an uncertain end. Her knowledge is greater that his on the pains of war. Another one of her seemingly erratic early actions is the way she slapped his face for kissing her, and then turns around and asks him to kiss her. Not only is this perfectly understandable behavior, it shows an awareness of human nature. It is understandable because in normal times, it would not have been acceptable for her to kiss him so soon. This is war times however, so it is unrealistic to apply the same rules. Everything has a greater sense of urgency. I also think Catherine knows that the reward is swe...
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I think that viewing Catherine from a feminist point of view can be very dangerous. While she is very loving, it is not ridiculously so. She simply works to make their relationship work. She does not think about her own needs all the time, but it is impossible to do that maintain a relationship. She is not selfless but she isn't selfish eiether. I believe Hemingway portrays her very realistically as a woman in love during a war.
Fetterley, Judith. The Resisting Reader: A Feminist Approach to American Fiction. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1978.
Hemingway, Ernest. A Farewell to Arms. New York: Scribner Paperback Fiction, 1995.
Spofford, William K. "Beyond the Feminist Perspective: Love in A Farewell to Arms." Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual 1978. Eds. Matthew J. Bruccoli and Richard Layman. Detroit: Gale Research, 1979. 307-12.
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