A Farewell to Arms | Study Guide

Ernest Hemingway

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A Farewell to Arms | Book 5, Chapter 41 | Summary

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Summary

Catherine wakes with contractions in the early morning. She and Henry travel to the hospital, where Catherine jokes excitedly about her pains and the upcoming birth. She sends Henry away for breakfast. When he returns she has been taken to the delivery room, where she is breathing gas for contraction pains. She is still jovial but clearly in pain. Henry breaks for lunch. When he returns the doctor advises a cesarean section because Catherine's labor is failing to progress. Henry agrees. The baby, a boy, is born, and Henry feels nothing but spite for him: "I had no feeling for him. ... He nearly killed his mother." He learns soon after that the baby was actually stillborn. In recovery Catherine looks terrible. She is very weak, but Henry again returns to the café for dinner. Upon Henry's return the nurse tells him that Catherine is hemorrhaging. He sits with her until she dies. Alone, he walks home in the pouring rain.

Analysis

In the moments before Catherine dies, Henry prays wildly for her to live, despite his earlier repeated protestations against religion. This action reinforces the idea that love for Catherine is Henry's true religion and that "there are no atheists in foxholes," an adage that came from World War I. In this moment of crisis, Henry reaches out blindly, desperately, to God. This is not a novel of spiritual redemption, so it should come as no surprise that Henry's prayers go unanswered. In the novel there is no God; how could there be in a world of such grisly death, both in and out of war? In the end there is only love, an idea Catherine reminds the reader of on her deathbed. When Henry asks if she would like to see a priest, she replies, "Just you." It is interesting to note, however, that, in Catherine's dying moments, she momentarily recoils from Henry's touch, and her final words are, "It's just a dirty trick." In her last breaths, Catherine's motivations are as beguiling as when she and Henry first met.

When the baby dies, Henry feels nothing, even going so far as to pray, "You took the baby. ... That was all right but don't let [Catherine] die." Henry and Catherine never truly imagined a future together. They lived entirely in the moment, isolated from reality. The baby would have shattered that illusion, which is why neither parent ever grew attached.

Catherine's death is the depressing resolution of the story, heavily foreshadowed throughout the novel. Many of the novel's themes and symbols have been leading to this harrowing end. Throughout the labor and delivery, Catherine is described as nothing but heroic in her courage and bravery. If determination had influenced the outcome, Catherine should have survived, but as Henry warned the reader in Chapter 34, "The world breaks everyone. ... But those that will not break it kills ... the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially." There is no reasoning why Catherine should die, just as there was no reasoning for Aymo or Rinaldi dying, Henry thinks. The novel ends with the inevitable truth about life. Throughout the novel Henry and Catherine fought to isolate themselves from that reality, but the message of the work is that, whatever sanctuary is found in life, either real or imagined, it is only temporary. This is the novel's closing image: Henry walking home alone in the pouring rain. It is one final reminder that there is no shelter from death.

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