Henry and Catherine develop a relationship as a response to the horrors of the war and the world. They hide from the pain of reality by living in a fantasy where they constantly lie to themselves and each other. Catherine is a recently widowed nurse while is Henry a naïve and lustful soldier; initially the relationship is expected to be nothing more than a game, a pleasurable activity to pass the time,
“I turned her so I could see her face when I kissed her and I saw that her eyes were shut. I kissed both her shut eyes. I thought she was probably a little crazy. It was all right if she was. I did not care what I was getting into […] I knew I did not love Catherine Barkley nor had any idea of loving her. This was a game, like bridge, in which you said things instead of playing cards. Like bridge you had to pretend you were playing for money or playing for some stakes. Nobody had mentioned what the stakes were. It was all right with me.” (Hemingway 15).
As the relationship of Henry and Catherine begins, we see just how thoughtlessly the two characters throw themselves into one another. Henry’s thoughts draw on an analogy to explain his relationship as a card game, a game which he is looking to profit from. Neither Henry nor Catherine are concerned with the outcomes of the relationship, they do not consider the “stakes” and recklessly pursue this form of connection. Henry and Catherine’s game of love distracts them from the unpleasant circumstances of trauma, violence, and conflict caused by the war, allowing the two to lose themselves in a game of false romance.
Both characters acknowledge that their relationship is a lie but express no interest in changing the situation. This idea is clearly developed by Catherine shortly after Henry is injured while at the front, “There, darling. Now you’re all clean inside and out. Tell me. How many people have you ever loved? […] It’s all right. Keep right on lying to me. That’s what I want you to do. Were they pretty?” (Hemingway 46). Initially as a means of alleviating the pain of war and private grief, their affair continues to serve the very practical purpose of masking life’s difficulties. At this point however, the couple’s game, though acknowledged by Catherine as a lie, is becoming more complicated. It is unclear just how deep the feelings are that inspires Henry’s declaration of love and his