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A Farewell to Arms | Study Guide

Ernest Hemingway

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A Farewell to Arms | Book 2, Chapter 16 | Summary



Catherine stays with Henry on the night before his surgery, careful to avoid detection. They fantasize about their future together and discuss past lovers. Catherine goes back and forth on whether she would like to know how many women Henry has slept with, but she settles on wanting to know how many he has told he loves. He lies and tells her zero. Catherine promises to do anything Henry wants as long as it will keep him faithful.


This chapter reveals Catherine's delicate mental state. Her fiancé died tragically in battle, and she regrets having never married him. She is overwhelmed with grief and desperate for someone to love as a distraction from processing that grief. This desperation manifests itself in the desire to become the ideal woman. If she can achieve perfection, she believes, no man will ever leave her, not even in death. She creates an idealized fantasy of love and of herself, unable to process her reality: "I'll do what you want and say what you want and then I'll be a great success, won't I?"

Catherine is almost manic in her insistence that she'll do whatever Henry wants, and the reader cannot help but be reminded of her reiterations of love in Chapter 6 when she says, "You see I'm not mad and I'm not gone off. It's only a little sometimes." She seems aware of her grieved mental state, which makes her desperation even more heartbreaking.

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