A Farewell to Arms | Study Guide

Ernest Hemingway

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A Farewell to Arms | Book 2, Chapter 13 | Summary



Henry is removed from the train and taken to the hospital by two bumbling porters. They bend his injured legs to stuff him into a too-small elevator. Henry is the first patient in the new hospital, and the staff is unprepared to receive him. The doctor is on vacation, and the night nurse, Miss Walker, bursts into tears because she cannot change Henry's bandages, put sheets on his bed, or answer any of his questions. In the morning another nurse announces that more staff should be arriving soon. The head nurse, Miss Van Campen, denies Henry's request to drink wine with meals, so he sends the porter to secretly buy him a bottle.


Wartime hospitals were not necessarily well organized, and Henry's experience highlights that aspect. Even though he is the only patient, the staff is emotional, unorganized, and overwhelmed. Over and over the novel reiterates that glory should not be associated with war. This hospital provides laughable "care" to the injured "hero." In Chapter 11 Rinaldi insists that Henry be decorated for his bravery, but the novel suggests that governments should be less concerned with meaningless medals and more concerned with giving their soldiers adequate care. Henry implores the nurse, "What's the idea of a hospital without a doctor?" If Henry is worthy of a silver medal, surely he deserves proper medical care.

It is also interesting to note that. at the end of the chapter, Henry cannot sleep in the dark. He stays awake at night, afraid of his bad dream, and sleeps during the day, a habit he will continue throughout the novel. This suggests shell shock. The term shell shock was coined during World War I to refer to the reaction some soldiers suffered in reaction to the trauma of the war. During World War II, it was called acute combat stress and most recently post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), with each subsequent term covering a wider range of symptoms as medical research developed a better understanding of the range of the condition. Hemingway himself battled with insomnia, depression, and shell shock, mental disorders his novels' heroes regularly struggle against.

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