A Farewell To Love
Ernest Hemingway’s A Farwell To Arms follows the narrative of Frederic Henry, a distinctly past-less, apathetic young American in the Italian ambulance corps during the first
World War. Although he is changed and molded by multiple characters and events, Henry is undoubtedly most influenced by his relationship with Catherine Barkley. Through her, he recognizes both his own loneliness and desire to find happiness and spiritual awareness, yet discovers a fear of separation in the face of the inevitability of death. Frederic Henry’s dry and retrospective interpretation of his experience with Catherine attempts to bring comprehension to the knowledge he gains from it. Ultimately however, his growth as a result of this knowledge proves to be circular, as his discovery of love and spirituality only serves to return Henry to his original fatalistic mindset.
At Frederic Henry’s introduction, very little is known of his past, and even less, perhaps, is known of Henry himself. He is presented as an apathetic, impulsive, and in some ways immature young man, just as detached from the war he fights in as he is from every aspect of his life. He is largely defined by not caring. This lack of caring first presents itself in the narrative in his response to the question of why he joined the Italian army in the first place: “I was in Italy, and I spoke Italian” (Hemingway, 22), and “There isn’t always an explanation for everything” (18). Taken alongside his murky past, his nonchalant approach to joining the war suggests his impulsive yet dispassionate approach to life. This attitude extends towards choosing his destination for leave. Although the priest had urged him to visit the Abruzzi, a place described as clear and cold, a world with order and reason, Henry decides to submerge himself in a “world all unreal in the dark and so exciting that you must resume again unknowing and not caring in the night, sure that this was all and all and all and not caring” (13). Yet the most important instance of his offhanded actions lies in his expression of love towards Catherine
Barkley paired with his telling statement, “I did not care what I was getting into...This was a game...Nobody had mentioned what the stakes were” (30-31). Frederic Henry comes into both the war and his relationship with Catherine consistently detached. Yet when he is wounded by a mortar shell, Henry is shocked into a recognition of his apathy: “I knew I was dead and that it had all been a mistake to think you had just died,” (54) a reference perhaps to his feeling “lonely and hollow” (41) in his previous nights spent uncaring. His wound awakens him to life’s fragility, no longer believing that the war would not affect him. Henry chooses to fill the void he has discovered with Catherine.
Henry’s view of his feelings for Catherine is multi faceted. His conversations with the priest regarding a rather all encompassing “it” detail his past, present and future relationship with love. The first reference towards this subject through his rambling about something the priest
“had always known,” what he “did not know,” and “was always able to forget,” (14) relates to
Henry’s later experience of love. His response of “If I ever get it I will tell you,” to the priests prediction that he will find love compares to his statement “If you have had it you know,” (13) for although it is directed towards his experiences on leave, it points out that his knowledge is retrospective. In the same way in which he rambled about love, similarly he rambled about night, and while he was unable to explain it, he later clarified that it was a “dreadful time for lonely people...But with Catherine...it was an even better time.” In such a way he explains how he fills
his feelings of loneliness and hollowness with Catherine. Thus his statement “what, when I learned it, I was always able to forget,” if taken to be about his experience of love with
Catherine, foreshadows both his discovery of…