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A Farewell to Arms | Study Guide

Ernest Hemingway

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A Farewell to Arms | Book 2, Chapter 23 | Summary



Henry prepares to return to the front. While out for a walk with Catherine, he decides at the last minute to rent a hotel room before his train leaves. Catherine has nothing with her but splurges on a fancy nightgown. The couple sees another soldier kissing a woman. Catherine unhappily comments that "nobody's like us" when Henry suggests they are like the couple. On the way to the hotel, Henry stops at a supply shop to buy a pistol. The hotel room is garish, and Catherine complains that it makes her feel "like a whore." Nevertheless they enjoy the last evening they have together. Right before boarding the train, Henry feels compelled to "talk facts," asking Catherine where she will have the baby.


This chapter relentlessly pounds the reader with ominous foreshadowing. It rains nonstop, hinting that death is coming. The chapter includes a poetic allusion. Henry says he feels "Time's winged chariot hurrying near," a quotation from "To His Coy Mistress" by 17th-century English poet Andrew Marvell. The words suggest the inevitability of death. The pistol feels heavy on Henry's belt, and the shopkeeper bizarrely tells him, "You will not make a mistake with it," foreshadowing the fact that it will eventually be used.

Despite all the negativity, Catherine and Henry continue to pretend their relationship is picture-perfect. Catherine has moments of clarity, however, when she complains that the garish room makes her feel like a whore and that the kissing couple that seems not to have a care in the world is nothing like them. She catches herself in these unhappy moments and quickly returns to the fantasy: "I'm a good girl again." She even wraps Henry's cape around herself when they are kissing to create the same image of the carefree kissing couple, as if pretending would make it real. She makes light of the possibility of Henry being injured again, and she calls the hotel room "our fine house," acting as if it is difficult to say good-bye to it. They both avoid acknowledging the reality of their situation until the bitter end.

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