World War I began in 1914 and lasted until the end of 1918. In that time young men had to go to the front and fight for their country. It is also the time when Ernest Hemingway’s novel A Farewell to Arms takes place. It talks about Frederic Henry, a young American who is an ambulance driver for the Italian army. He is also the novel’s narrative and protagonist. He falls in love with an English nurse, Catherine Barkley. She is the main woman character in the novel and it is noticeable how she is shown as a stereotypical female during World War I. Throughout the novel we can see how women are shown in a stereotypical way and how they were mistreated by men. The purpose of this essay is firstly to analyze how Hemingway describes women in his novel A Farewell to Arms and finally to discuss Catherine’s attitude towards Frederic.
At the beginning of the novel, Lieutenant Henry describes the Italian village in which he lives. Later that year his unit moves to Gorizia. He describes the town as “very nice and [his] house […] very fine” (Hemingway, 39). The position of women in the novel is visible at the very beginning when Henry tells about the two brothels in the town:”[…]there were hospitals and cafés and artillery up side streets and two bawdy houses, one for troops and one for officers” (Hemingway, 39).
When Henry is in the mess hall having dinner later that day, he tells his fellow officers that he is going on leave. They all try to convince him to go to Abruzzi, Palermo, Capri, Rome, Naples, or Sicily (their home towns) to visit their families. One of the officers tells him that “He should have fine girls. I will give you the addresses of places in Naples. Beautiful young girls—accompanied by their mothers. Ha! Ha! Ha!” (Hemingway…
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…nd for the mask and held it over her face. The doctor moved the dial and watched her. In a little while it was over. “It wasn’t much,” Catherine said.
Catherine died because of a hemorrhage and the baby died before it was born.
There are not many female characters in the novel A Farewell to Arms and it is clear that they in are not equal to men. They are either prostitutes or nurses. The character of Catherine Barkley is subordinate to Henry and would do anything for him. We can see the superiority men have over women throughout time and the character of Catherine Barkley is just one of them.
Assadnassab, Sara. “Hemingway´s Depiction of Women in A Farewell to Arms.”. http://epubl.ltu.se/1402-1773/2005/117/LTU-CUPP-05117-SE.pdf (accessed April 17, 2013).
Hemingway, Ernest. A Farewell to Arms. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1929.