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A Farewell to Arms | Discussion Questions 11 - 20

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Compare and contrast Henry's relationships with the priest and Rinaldi in A Farewell to Arms.

Henry's relationships with the priest and Rinaldi are symbolic of his spiritual struggle. His relationship with the priest is symbolic of his desire to develop a greater spiritual understanding of the world. The two men hold deep discussions about war, love, and belief, and the priest becomes a true confidant for Henry. His relationship with Rinaldi, an alcoholic womanizer, is symbolic of the desire to escape reality through excess, simply embracing the hedonism of life before death. In Book 3, Chapter 25, he tells Henry the only things he (Rinaldi) likes are sex and drinking. He even tries to get Henry to share sexual details about Catherine.

Compare and contrast Henry's treatment of deserting soldiers in A Farewell to Arms.

Throughout the novel Henry has ample opportunity to aid deserting soldiers—first the soldier with the hernia in Chapter 7 and then Bonello in Chapter 30. Because Henry no longer feels impassioned by Italy's war efforts, he shirks his duty to arrest or report these men. He is content to let them go because he agrees with their apathy. In fact, he actively helps the soldier with the hernia concoct a plan to avoid returning to combat. When the sergeant disrespects Henry's direct order in Chapter 29, Henry shoots him. His disillusionment has reached its tipping point, and he loses his moral code. The frustration of the ineffective retreat and the fear of capture overwhelm him at this point. He takes out his frustration on the sergeant because the two sergeants' actions affect the group, while the actions of the man with the hernia and Bonello affect only themselves.

Why does Catherine, an atheist, give Henry a St. Anthony medallion in A Farewell to Arms?

In Book 1, Chapter 8, Catherine gives Henry the medal even though she is not religious because she believes it is "very useful" and it will protect him, provide him an edge in the game of chance that is the war. Later in the novel, she tells Henry she gave him the medallion "for luck." St. Anthony is best known as the patron saint of returning lost items and missing persons, but he is also the patron saint of miracles. The ambulance driver who picks Henry up wears one, and Catherine most likely has seen other soldiers wearing them. In fact, she later admits that someone else had given the medallion to her.

Describe the significance of Henry's injury to the themes in A Farewell to Arms.

Henry is injured while eating cold pasta with his hands. It is an animalistic scene, not glorious, masculine, or heroic at all. It illustrates the meaninglessness of war. For Henry, that a man can take a sip of wine one moment and feel "myself rush bodily out of myself" the next reinforces the idea that life is all about chance. While feeling a sensation at a moment seemingly after death could lead a character in a religious direction, Henry does not quite have a religious conversion; however, he does stop visiting prostitutes and falls in love with Catherine during his convalescence.

How does Passini's death illustrate the themes in A Farewell to Arms?

In Chapter 9 the ambulance driver Passini is the most outspoken character about the absurdity of war and his disillusionment with Italy's war efforts. He explicitly says, "There is nothing worse than war." He repeats the sentiment more than once. It is especially heartbreaking, then, when he is violently killed in a war he was just saying he no longer believes in. This supports the novel's themes of life as a matter of chance and the absurdity of war; it strengthens the idea that war has turned distinct individuals into a pile of unidentifiable corpses.

What does Catherine mean when she says, "It sounds very funny now—Catherine. You don't pronounce it very much alike. But you're very nice," in A Farewell to Arms?

Catherine is referring to the way Henry says her name and that it does not sound very much like the way her fiancé said it. However, in context with the surrounding dialogue in Book 1, Chapter 6, it is as though she is trying to make him say numerous words exactly the way her dead fiancé used to speak. Right before Catherine utters these words, Henry calls her "Dear Catherine." Her response indicates that she feels awkward for not being able to control her emotions since he arrived. It also suggests that she is chastising Henry because she senses that he is as insincere as she is. From her perspective she has an excuse for "being a little crazy," but she is suspicious of Henry for playing along when he does not have any reason for doing so.

How does Hemingway use the landscape in A Farewell to Arms to create mood?

Life in the mountains is portrayed as peaceful and idyllic. Abruzzi is in the mountains—a place that represents spirituality and deep thinking—as is the Swiss lodge where Catherine and Henry pass a few months before the baby is born. The lower a setting is geographically, the more "base" the lifestyle. At "ground level" Henry is faced with mild external conflict (combative nurses, losing his leave, having to hide his relationship, etc). Below ground level, in the trenches, life is abysmal with grisly violence, filth, and "base pleasures" such as sleeping with prostitutes and drinking to excess.

At the end of Book 1, Chapter 9, in A Farewell to Arms, Henry is covered in the blood of another soldier. How is Henry changed by this experience?

Just after Henry is injured, he smokes a cigarette with a British ambulance driver. Generally speaking, everyone, including Henry, acts nonchalantly about Henry's serious injuries (his skull is fractured and his "knee was down on [his] shin") because his injuries are not as serious as those of others. Henry maintains his allegiance to masculine protocols, and the doctors join him in it, cracking jokes, giving him brandy, and hurting him with their pokes and jabs. The doctors are overwhelmed with casualties, and the British ambulance driver puts Henry, with serious but less life-threatening injuries, ahead of more seriously wounded soldiers. By the end of Chapter 9, Henry, riding in the ambulance, realizes that the man above him is bleeding out. Symbolically, the injured soldier gives everything (all his blood) for very little military gain. Once the driver reaches the post at the top of the mountain, the dead soldier is removed and replaced by another injured man. Henry, chilled to the soul by the cold, dripping blood, realizes that all of the soldiers are interchangeable and that it easily could have been him who died.

What role does Bacchus play in A Farewell to Arms?

Bacchus is the Roman god who invented wine. He is mentioned in a conversation between Henry and the major in Book 1, Chapter 7, but the recurring presence of wine throughout the novel suggests he also has a more subtle presence in the story. In Book 1, Chapter 7, the major tells Henry that he has heard Henry is a drinker. When Henry denies the claim, the major says, "By the corpse of Bacchus we would test whether it was true or not." Henry refuses the test—"Not Bacchus," he says—but his actions in the chapter seem to support the major's claim. Henry's gets drunk, and his drunkenness prevents him from spending the evening with Catherine. For others, Rinaldi especially, Bacchus and his wine provide escape from the war. Even Rinaldi's womanizing is a reflection of Bacchus, whose worship was characterized by intoxication and indulgence.

In A Farewell to Arms, why is Henry reluctant to be honored for heroism?

When Rinaldi arrives at the hospital, he insists that he will get Henry medals of honor for his heroics on the battlefield. Henry resists, saying that he performed no heroics, which is partially the truth, as he was eating when he was injured. However, Henry did try to save Passini, and he was concerned about his men before he realized the extent of his own injuries. Perhaps Henry does not want the attention, or maybe he is upset that he was unable to save Passini. Henry is stoic, simply performing his duties and moving on with life—a trademark of Hemingway's heroes. He does not believe there is glory in war, a sign of his disillusionment.

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