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A Farewell to Arms | Study Guide

Ernest Hemingway

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A Farewell to Arms | Book 5, Chapter 38 | Summary



Henry and Catherine move into a house in the mountains and spend a romantic winter together, walking in the woods, eating at local restaurants, playing chess, and discussing their future. After Christmas, when the baby is near, Catherine asks Henry to grow a beard and to grow his hair longer. Henry does not really want to, but he agrees in order to please Catherine.


The first half of this chapter simply serves to describe the passing of time. Henry and Catherine truly have created an even more isolated bubble for their romance, hidden up in the mountains. As the birth of the baby nears, Catherine's behavior becomes peculiar. She says to Henry when she is heavily pregnant, "I suppose if we really have this child we ought to get married." It is as if she has not fully realized that a baby will be born shortly, and the reader may be reminded of Catherine's comment on the rowboat to Switzerland that life would be easier if an oar would pop her in the tummy. She has no baby clothing or supplies, continues to drink heavily, and speaks either apathetically or negatively about the baby whenever she mentions the pregnancy.

At the end of the chapter, Catherine acknowledges that she was "nearly crazy" when she met Henry but says, "I'm not crazy now." Catherine seems to be hovering closer to the edge than ever before. The impending birth will shatter her illusions of a romantic fantasy life lived without consequence. She has been using Henry as a stand-in for her dead fiancé (maybe she even wants Henry to grow a beard and hair to look more like the fiancé), but she will be forced to acknowledge the reality of their relationship when the baby is born. This chapter highlights her mental struggle as she wavers between marrying Henry and ignoring the pregnancy and between admitting she's "crazy" and pretending to be sane.

Henry seems oblivious to Catherine's mental struggles. He is blindly in love with her. Throughout the novel his stoicism has allowed him to block emotional disaster from his life, and so far this relationship is no exception to his masculine rule following. As for the war, Henry has no more interest in it than "the football game of someone else's college." Like love in the first half of the novel, war is now nothing more than entertainment.

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