1. In what ways does A Farewell to Arms reveal the Hemingway code of behavior for a man?
Frederic Henry is detached and analytical and his observations to the reader are delivered in simple terms and without recourse to artifice. The impression is of a young man existentially removed from the world. As a typical Hemingway hero he enjoys drinking, rarely if ever displays weakness and acts without hesitation. The only time in the story that he fires his weapon, for instance, it when he shoots a defecting Italian soldier. The moment is delivered, however, with the same dispassionate tone as when he describes the quality of a drink or the lay of the land. By the end of the story Frederic has come to accept the Hemingway outlook that death comes to everyone and one may as well accept it and act accordingly.
2. How would you characterize Frederic Henry’s emotional development over the course of the story?
Frederic begins the novel with no particular emotional attachments to anyone or thing. Though he is in the Italian army and has friends there they do not touch him deeply. His relationships with women are limited to whorehouses and drunken one-night-stands while on leave. Catherine Barkley, however, causes him to feel more deeply than he has previous and he soon discovers, much to his surprise, that he is in love with her. His feelings for her develop until he knows the devout type of deeper love espoused by the priest and Count Greffi. This development reaches its climax when he begins praying to God for her survival. When she dies in childbirth he is left empty, alone and weary of the world. He has known the joy of love but also the sadness of mortality and he is wiser for it.
3. In what ways is A Farewell to Arms auto-biographical?
There are many obvious similarities between the narrator of the novel, Frederic Henry, and its author Ernest Hemingway. Both were wounded while serving as ambulance drivers in Italy during the First World War. Neither felt much attachment to his family or particular allegiance to any ideology at the time. Like his narrator in the novel, Ernest Hemingway was a connoisseur of experiences. The fictional Catherine Barkley is an acknowledged characterization of a nurse Hemingway met while recuperating from his wounds. Unlike the real-life Sister Agnes Hannah von Kurowsky, however, who spurned young Ernest’s advances, the fictional Catherine Barkley falls deeply in love with Frederic. Her death in the story, however, can be taken to have brought the same lessons to Frederic as Hannah’s refusal and his experiences in the war brought to Hemingway.
4. What role does drinking play in the narrative and how is it significant to the novel’s meaning?
The characters of the story spend much of their time drinking and Frederic is very specific in describing the quality of the drink and the type of beverage, whether it is several martinis with lunch or a canteen of plundered wine during a retreat. Drinking underscores the spirit of urbanity and casual wit that permeates events like the race track where the party imbibes scotch and soda or in the hotel room when Frederic muses upon the wonderful qualities of a good whiskey. Drinking can also serve as a coping mechanism as it does during the retreat when he and the drivers have a pleasant time drinking the cellar wine before joining the retreat or later when he downs several beers while Catherine is enduring her protracted labor. Catherine herself, under her doctor’s advice, drinks beer during her pregnancy to help keep the baby’s weight down and hopefully compensate for her thin hips. Because A Farewell to Arms was published during the American prohibition, the carefree consumption of alcohol depicted in the novel can be taken to have political meaning as well as express a pro-European stance. Hemingway himself was a legendary consumer of alcohol and like many others moved to Paris in the twenties in part to escape the restrictive Prohibition period in the United States.
5. How would you characterize Catherine Barkley’s role in the novel?
Catherine Barkley is the idealized female counterpart to Hemingway’s hero Frederic Henry. She is beautiful and assured yet vulnerable and selfless. When she becomes pregnant she tells Frederic that he “simply musn’t worry” but concedes that she fears the rain. She is not completely without substance, however, and the moments when she calls into questions Frederic’s motives help to spur his emotional development. For instance, after their first misunderstanding when he uses the word “always” to describe how people feel trapped biologically she takes it as meaning that her pregnancy is hindering him. When he apologizes: “I could cut off my tongue” she immediately responds to his gesture and declares that they are one soul and should not “misunderstand on purpose”. In this manner she helps Frederic to understand that she can be affected by what he thinks of her and that their love encompasses responsibility for one another’s feelings.