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A Farewell to Arms | Study Guide

Ernest Hemingway

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A Farewell to Arms | Discussion Questions 1 - 10


How does the description of the countryside in Book 1, Chapter 1, create mood in A Farewell to Arms?

The descriptions in Book 1, Chapter 1, create a mood of hopelessness, highlighted by the death of everything around, including nature. The narrator describes the change of seasons in the countryside, from summer to fall, as a loss of color and life. Not only do the leaves fall from the trees, but the tree trunks turn "black with rain." Similarly the vineyard becomes thin and bare. The narrator explicitly describes the landscape as "wet and brown and dead with autumn." Even the mist on the river and the clouds in the sky suggest a gray, dark palette.

What is the significance of how the narrator describes the procession of cars in Book 1, Chapter 1, of A Farewell to Arms?

The procession is described in a way that is reminiscent of an unhappy parade, foreshadowing nearly all the major events in the novel. The soldiers walk by as if they are "six months gone with child," foreshadowing the most traumatic event to come. The image also creates an immediate sense of impossible burden and doom, because of the soldiers' intense struggle and the impossibility of male pregnancy. Cars and trucks are splashed with mud, foreshadowing that mud will be victorious over Henry at the crucial moment he gives up during the retreat. The reader can easily grasp the intended meaning in describing the king's car as going by "fast." This signals that a mutiny could arise any moment. This also happens later in the novel, during the retreat when the soldiers rebel.

What is Henry's emotional state in Book 1, Chapter 2, of A Farewell to Arms?

Henry's emotional state is relaxed and happy in this chapter. He has moved to the town of Gorizia, which is very beautiful and livable despite the war. The relocation and the opportunities for relaxation in the town's restaurants and brothels contribute to his good mood. The Austrians have spared the city from being reduced to ruin. With the oncoming snow, the fighting is over for the year, giving Henry and his comrades a break from the war. Henry's needs for camaraderie, a full belly, girls, and alcohol are all being met. The enemy is farther away. He is also excited because he is looking forward to his leave. The war is the last thing on his mind.

What does Henry's initial interaction with the priest in A Farewell to Arms suggest, and how does their relationship change throughout the novel?

First Henry sees the priest on the street. His friend waves to the priest, but the priest does not join the soldiers. This may appear random, but it establishes that the priest and Henry only talk sincerely in private. Henry sees the priest a few hours later at dinner. While the captain taunts the priest, he stares into Henry's eyes. This suggests that the captain sees similarities between Henry and the priest; the captain is actually taunting both of them. He makes his jokes more vulgar to entice Henry to reveal his true nature, but Henry maintains silence. The captain plays the part of a tempting "devil" while the priest plays the "angel." Henry follows his dark side by choosing the brothel. However, during Henry's time on the front, the priest is Henry's only true confidant. The priest provides him with nonjudgmental support about his fears, relationship, and hopes for the future. Because Henry isn't ready to embrace his spirituality, their relationship is one-sided. Henry disappoints the priest by failing to visit his hometown and again by not embracing religion when the priest is working so hard to enlighten him. The last time Henry talks with the priest, the conversation reveals that their relationship has reached a point of departure, for Henry sees only defeat. At the beginning of their conversation, in Chapter 26, Henry asks, "Should we go upstairs?" At the end of the chapter, the priest says, "Don't go down," suggesting the religious concepts of heaven and hell. Between this allusion of heaven and hell, each character states his religious case to the other: Henry believes only in "sleep." The priest professes his faith in God, saying he "believes" and "prays."

Is Henry a reliable narrator in A Farewell to Arms?

Henry might seem like an unreliable narrator because of his drinking, injuries, and emotional trauma, but he actually proves quite reliable. He recounts only what he saw and heard. He includes and dramatizes differences of opinions rather than omitting them or glossing over them. He recounts conversations and events in which he acted badly—such as when he lied to Catherine, when he killed the disobedient sergeant, and when he went AWOL.

Why do the soldiers tease the priest in A Farewell to Arms?

The soldiers tease the priest about his spiritual beliefs because they don't believe in God. This teasing reflects the novel's theme of escapism in that the soldiers are further distancing themselves from any sort of religion and from the grim realities of the front. They suggest that the church and its priests are corrupt. The major says, "All thinking men are atheists," inferring that he thinks the officers make decisions based on reason and intellect rather than prayer and spirituality. Such an inference suggests the major and his officers have divorced themselves from the emotional and moral realities of life in the trenches.

In A Farewell to Arms, how has Henry changed when he returns from leave in Book 1, Chapter 3?

Henry's confidence and work ethic have deflated when he returns from leave. He's unsure if he should clean up or report to duty. Before he left for his leave, he knew exactly what to do and all the details of the military's maneuvers. His relationship with Rinaldi has also changed. Rinaldi demands 50 lire to impress a woman and then thanks Henry in an exaggerated manner. The exchange of money diminishes the status of their friendship, if only momentarily, to one of convenience and commodity. There was much more natural affection between them before Henry left. When Henry the narrator states, "We were great friends," it reads like a disclaimer, as if he did not feel as much fondness for Rinaldi as he wanted to. One of the first things Rinaldi says to Henry is, "You talk like a time-table." This is a comparison to something factual and uninteresting. With the priest Henry is riddled with doubt and guilt, introducing a new dynamic into their relationship. As the narrator reflecting on his experiences, Henry says, "We were still friends ... but with the difference between us."

What is the significance of Catherine's riding crop in A Farewell to Arms?

The riding crop, described in Book 1, Chapter 4, as "a thin rattan stick ... bound in leather," belonged to Catherine's fiancé, who was killed in battle. By carrying the crop with her, she is showing that she has not let go of him or his memory. The introduction of the riding crop also serves as foreshadowing: her fiancé's death is a loss that will haunt Catherine throughout the novel. The riding crop also provides a degree of sexual innuendo, setting the tone for Henry and Catherine's relationship.

Is Catherine truly in love with Henry in A Farewell to Arms?

Throughout the novel it becomes clear that Catherine is dedicated and loyal to Henry, but she does not love him. She tells him what to say to her rather than allowing him to speak his mind and asks him to change his appearance to suit her. When Henry faces harrowing obstacles, she treats them lightly, as if the dangers are simply a game. She makes it clear that she doesn't want to marry him and doesn't want to have his child, and in her final moments, she recoils from his physical touch. Catherine doesn't truly love Henry, but she loves the idea of being in love, which is why she is with him.

Why does Hemingway reference games so often in A Farewell to Arms?

Hemingway's repeated references to games (bridge, chess, cards, billiards, racing) serve two purposes. First, the references remind readers that life is little more than a game of chance. Second, the games remind readers of the "games" Catherine and Henry play to distract themselves from the reality of war, including their fears, violence, loss, and grief. In the beginning of the novel, Henry says that he doesn't know the "stakes" they're playing for, but it becomes clear that they are "playing" for a chance at happiness, love, and a future.

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