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A Farewell to Arms | Study Guide

Ernest Hemingway

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A Farewell to Arms | Book 1, Chapter 4 | Summary



Rinaldi takes Henry to the hospital to meet Miss Barkley (Catherine). Henry and Catherine discuss the war, including the fact that her fiancé was killed in battle. She became a nurse when her fiancé joined the army, harboring a romantic fantasy that he would come into the hospital with an injury and she would be the one to nurse him back to health.


Catherine's fantasy of nursing her fiancé back to health underscores the mentality of many wartime volunteers who joined up to chase a romantic ideal of glory and patriotism only to be confronted with a grisly reality. These soldiers did not end up with "a saber cut" that could heal; they ended up "blown all to bits." Her story also foreshadows the wartime injury that will put Henry in her care, allowing their love to blossom. Catherine and Henry cut the small talk quickly with Catherine's sharp question, "Do we have to go on and talk this way?" and begin speaking of deeper issues, such as love and death. Catherine is especially aware of how life can be cut short, which creates urgency from the outset in their relationship.

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