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Dealing with Death in A Farewell to Arms
"I'm afraid of the rain because sometimes I picture myself dead in it" (P 126). This is a short quotation from, A Farewell to Arms, (1929), by Ernest Hemingway. A Farewell to Arms has a very unexpected death in the end. The reader sympathizes with the main character as he matures from the beginning to the conclusion of the novel.
A Farewell to Arms is a love story during World War I. The novel is centered on Lieutenant Fredric Henry, an American who has volunteered for the Italian army driving ambulances in Europe because the United States has not yet entered the war. Fredric is known as being a lost man searching for order and value in his life. He is very subdued and does not care about himself or about the war. In the first book of the novel, Fredric is characterized, along with the other characters. Throughout the first book, Fredric takes a leave of absence from the war and travels the country looking for his purpose in life.
During the second book, Fredric returns to the warfront town and meets with his closest friend, Rinaldi, who introduces Fredric to Catherine Barkely. Catherine is a French nurse with whom Fredric falls in love immediately. Fredric finds commitment with her, and they start to spend time together. Their relationship brings order and value to his life. He starts to care more about himself and Catherine. Being away from the war, Fredric feels safe with Catherine. When they are together, the war seems to not exist. "The war seemed as far away as the football games of someone else's college," says Fredric (P 63).
Catherine is experienced when it comes to love and loss since she lost her fiancé in an earlier war. She cannot depend on another person so she tries not to depend on Fredric to bring order to her life and less chaos. This then allows her to be emotionally stronger when Fredric has to go off to war again.
While off at war, Fredric and his other driver friends are sitting in a cave, when the Austrians attack. Fredric is hit in the knee while trying to help his friend, who dies. Fredric is taken to the hospital in Milan. When he arrives at the hospital, Rinaldi and Catherine come to visit him.
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Book three is when Fredric realizes he doesn't want to be part of the war, but only with Catherine. Fredric convinces himself that he has a "fine life" (P 298). Catherine then finds out that she is pregnant with Fredric's baby. After a few months, Fredric is sent back to the warfront and has to leave Catherine.
While at war, Fredric leaves his troops because they did not follow his orders. German troops are looking for Fredric for leaving his troops. "Along the top of the stone bridge, I could see German helmets moving" (P 211). Floating down the Taglimento River, Fredric goes through the Venetian fields and then rides a train to safety.
Returning to Milan, in the fifth book, Catherine is not at the hospital and has gone to Stresa for time off. They stay in a motel and find out that Fredric will be arrested if they stay there. Leaving during the middle of the night, they travel to Switzerland to find safety. There they live in the mountains above Montreaux until Catherine gets closer to having the child, and then they move into a hotel in Lausanne.
Until the end of the novel, Henry relies on Catherine for order in his life. Catherine's and Fredric's love ends when Catherine dies of hemorrhages while giving birth to their stillborn baby. When Fredric sees his baby boy, he feels no sense of fatherhood and only wants to be with Catherine.
During the last paragraph, Hemingway characterizes Fredric, when he sees Catherine's dead body lying on the hospital bed for the first and last time. Henry's response was, "it was like saying good-bye to a statue" (P 332). Fredric then realizes that Catherine was the only symbol of the order and strength in his life.
"If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brace impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry." Hemingway describes the separation between Catherine and Fredric, in this quotation.
People deal with death in very different ways. In this novel, Fredric has to learn how to live without Catherine in his life. Finding strength from within will allow Fredric to go on with his life. "After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain" (P 332).
Hemingway, Ernest. A Farewell to Arms. Charles Scribner's Sons, 1929. New York.