A Farewell to Arms | Study Guide

Ernest Hemingway

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A Farewell to Arms | Book 3, Chapter 29 | Summary



The ambulance gets stuck in a field. Henry orders the two sergeants to help cut brush for the tires to grip as the others push the car out of the mud. The sergeants refuse and walk away, either to desert or out of fear of the advancing Austrians. Frustrated Henry pulls out his pistol and shoots. He wounds one sergeant; the other sergeant escapes. Bonello takes Henry's pistol and shoots the wounded sergeant again, killing him. Bonello says proudly, "I never killed anybody in this war, and all my life I've wanted to kill a sergeant." Sensing that the Austrians are very near, the drivers continue their retreat on foot. Henry gives the teenage girls money and sends them down the road, hoping they will meet up with other retreating peasants.


Henry killing the sergeant is a turning point for his character. Until now the reader has not seen him actively engage in battle. It is significant that he shoots an Italian soldier rather than an enemy soldier. There is little buildup to the shooting and no emotional description of how he felt before or after he did it. In the moment Henry fulfilled his duty as an acting officer faced with two deserters. Was he lashing out in personal frustration, or was he simply following protocol? The sparse description of the scene forces readers to make up their own minds. When the brush does not create enough traction to move the car, Henry takes the fallen sergeant's coat and uses it, leaving the man lying on the side of the road "in his dirty long-sleeved underwear." Again this image highlights the utter lack of glory or honor in war, despite Gino's insistence that his fatherland is "sacred." The fact that the sergeants are never given names, and it is not even clear which one Henry kills, suggests that it could have been anyone. Bonello's apparent glee at having killed an officer, even though it was one of his own men, shows that the Italian army is crumbling. There is no sense of loyalty or unity.

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