A Farewell to Arms | Study Guide

Ernest Hemingway

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A Farewell to Arms | Book 1, Chapter 9 | Summary



Henry arrives at the front and describes the military scene. He hands out cigarettes to the other drivers, and they engage in a philosophical conversation about the war's purpose. Passini objects the most, believing the war to be nothing more than pointless violence. The men are hungry, so Henry and Gordini bring back cold macaroni and a quarter of a block of cheese. As the men huddle in the dugout, eating pasta with their hands, a trench mortar explodes. The blast blows off Passini's legs and terribly wounds Henry's. Despite Henry's heroic efforts to save him, Passini dies. The other two drivers find Henry and clumsily transport him to the dressing station. In the ambulance on the way to the hospital, the soldier on a stretcher above Henry bleeds out, the blood pouring through the bed and onto Henry's clothes.


This is a major turning point for Henry because it is the first time the brutality of war personally affects him. While the blast does not take Henry's life, it does plunge him into the harsh realities of war, first in his valiant efforts to save Passini and even more dramatically when the chapter closes and Henry is covered in a dead man's blood. Henry can no longer declare that the war "did not have anything to do with me."

During the conversation about war, Passini recalls a story about military police lining up soldiers and shooting every 10th man. In the story they raid a village and kill those soldier's families. For the soldiers in World War I, desertion or conscientious objection was not an option. They were forced into battle whether or not they wanted to go. It is especially heartbreaking that Passini dies a brutal death in a war he does not believe in. This scene reminds readers of the millions of men who gave their lives for very little military gain.

This section touches on the theme of religion in war. On one hand the St. Anthony medal Catherine gives Henry, even though neither one believes in it, suggests that a miraculous intervention might have saved Henry's life, while Passini's was so violently taken. On the other hand, the doctor asks an assistant to "mark a cross on both legs" as if a prayer might save Henry. This gesture highlights the "Hail Mary" attempt at saving lives in the midst of chaos, but it also might literally be an X to indicate that the field doctor examined both legs.

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