A Farewell to Arms | Study Guide

Ernest Hemingway

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A Farewell to Arms | Book 4, Chapter 34 | Summary

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Summary

Still wearing civilian clothing, Henry boards a train to Stresa. The city is practically deserted. He visits a familiar hotel and greets the barman, Emilio, an old friend. The barman says that he saw two British girls in another hotel across the road. Henry hurries off and interrupts Catherine and Helen Ferguson during their dinner. Catherine is delighted to see Henry, but Ferguson is terse and judgmental. She is upset that Henry has gotten Catherine pregnant and indignant that the couple has no intention of getting married. She starts out angry but breaks into tears as the conversation continues. Catherine joins Henry at the hotel later that evening. It is clear that the two are truly in love. They know Henry is in danger of being arrested; Catherine swears that she will follow him anywhere.

Analysis

The war has changed Henry. While on the train, he receives angry glares from soldiers who believe he is a civilian avoiding his duty in the war. The old Henry would have "insulted them and picked a fight," but the new Henry is content to leave them alone. He has made a "separate peace" from the war, which means he is no longer interested in fighting anyone or anything associated with the war. Henry's distance from the war, along with the fact that he feels out of place in his civilian clothes, shows that he belongs nowhere: He is no longer a soldier but not truly a civilian. He is in an emotional no-man's land. All that changes when he is with Catherine. With Catherine he feels at home.

When the lovers meet back up in the hotel, it is clear that absence really has made the heart grow fonder. No longer are they playing at love; they really are in love, as long as they remain safe in their isolated bubble where no outside forces can harm them: "We were never lonely and never afraid when we were together." As Catherine sleeps Henry contemplates the meaninglessness of life and the randomness of death. He thinks of the war, but his thoughts lay bare the philosophical core of the novel. Life is cruel and unfair: "It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially." This is an ominous foreshadowing of Catherine's impending death.

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