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A Farewell to Arms | Study Guide

Ernest Hemingway

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A Farewell to Arms | Book 3, Chapter 31 | Summary



After floating awhile, clinging to timber, Henry pulls himself from the river. He dries out his shoes and clothes, cuts the stars off his uniform that identify him as an officer, and then continues his escape on foot. He lies near a railroad track and waits for a train to pass. When one does he jumps on and manages to secure a hiding place beneath a canvas that covers guns even though the train is crawling with guards.


By cutting the stars off his uniform, Henry removes the threat of being killed by battle officers for his desertion. Symbolically, he removes his personal ties to the war. By diving into the river, Henry throws away whatever loyalty he had to the Italian army. His only focus now is on saving himself. His personal bravery is highlighted by the daring escape on the train.

Interestingly, Hemingway opens this chapter with the word you: "You do not know how long you are in a river when the current moves swiftly," and later, "We went down the river in a long curve. ... We went slowly around." Hemingway pulls the reader personally into Henry's struggle, suggesting that anyone, including the readers themselves, would have made the same decision to desert.

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