A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway is a novel set in Italy during World War I. It tells the story of its protagonist, an ambulance driver named Frederic Henry (most often referred to as simply Henry), and his love for a nurse named Catherine Barkley during a time in which Henry has sought to escape from the war around him. A Farewell to Arms, which is notable for its melancholy plot, strongly resembles some aspects of Hemingway’s own life; he committed suicide after a lifelong case of depression, and he too experienced the tragedies of war. He communicates one major theme through A Farwell to Arms—the inevitability of the loss of happiness. Hemingway expresses this idea through his ingenious use of symbolism, motif, and irony.
The first major symbol in A Farewell to Arms represents the unavoidable loss of happiness through its own gloomy form—rain. Rainstorms in the novel are frequently associated with fear, or they foreshadow a collapsing of some form of pleasure (SparkNotes Editors). Catherine Barkley’s fear of rain may directly symbolize her fear for her future with Henry: “…’I’m afraid of the rain because I sometimes see me dead in it…and sometimes I see you dead in it… Oh, oh God, I wish I wasn’t. ’She was crying. I comforted her and she stopped crying. But outside it kept on raining” (121, 122). Rain is also present in most of the scenes that precede or accompany an unfortunate event. For example, the “rain was coming down heavily outside on the balcony” (136) the night that Henry was caught drinking in his hotel room, and was subsequently stripped of his leave, meaning that he would have to return to the front and leave Catherine sooner than expected.
In Book II of A Farewell to Arms, written by Ernest Hemingway, the narrator and main protagonist, Frederic Henry, traveled to Milan to recover from his injury from a battle in World War I. Frederic Henry is a dynamic character who, in Milan, builds his relations with his lover, Catherine Barkley. Also, Henry encounters many people who may or may not exhibit the traits of a “Hemingway Hero”, a man for whom it is a point of honor to suffer with grace and dignity, and who, sensing that defeat is inevitable, plays “the game” (of life) well. Throughout Book II, round characters, like Frederic and Catherine, build upon their relationship with one another, and Frederic meets many flat characters who may or may not exhibit traits of a “Hemingway Hero”.
Frederic Henry was a lieutenant in the Italian army who was immature, and willing to drink alcohol and go to a brothel when he wanted to have fun or alleviate stress. One of his sexual encounters one night was the beautiful Catherine Barkley. Frederic was never interested in having a serious relationship with a woman, nevermind having a child. He just wanted to have some fun while doing his job. In Book I, Frederic knew that he “did not love Catherine Barkley nor had any idea of loving her” (Hemingway 30). However, Catherine went with Frederic to Milan to help nurse him back to health, and to (potentially) further develop their relationship. That exactly happened: Frederic was nursed back to health, and their relationship became more than a “one-time” sexual encounter. The two truly began to love one another, and Catherine would eventually become pregnant with Frederic’s child. Frederic still used alcohol as a means to alleviate stress, but also found joy in being with Catherine.
When Catherine and Henry meet, they both attempt to escape the effect of war through each other. Catherine lost her fiancé to the war, and Henry just wants to escape the dread of war. In the beginning, the two find solace in their purely sexual relationship. They pretend to love each other in the “rotten game” they play (31). The relationship serves as a distraction from the war waging around them, as when they spend time together, they do not have to think of the war. From then on, their relationship consists of them making love and making claims of love. They both recognize their relationship as being a game and a sham, but they continue to meet in isolated places. Neither of them expect any love to come out of their relationship.
In Milan, when Catherine and Henry meet again, they fall in love. The minute Henry sees Catherine after their separation, everything “turned over” inside of him (91). They immediately move to the bed to prove their love to each other. They had “many small ways of making love” and consider themselves married (114). This displays the large growth in their relationship from when they last saw each other. Instead of their relationship being solely sexual, they now incorporate feelings into it.