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A Farewell to Arms | Study Guide

Ernest Hemingway

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A Farewell to Arms | Discussion Questions 41 - 50


What role do civilians play in A Farewell to Arms?

Civilians in A Farewell to Arms are minor supporting characters, and they most often provide support for Henry. Almost every civilian in the novel acts as a helper, from the porters who bring Henry alcohol to the proprietor who offers to hide Henry after his desertion to Emilio and Simmons, who aid in Henry's escape. Civilians are often willing to risk their own safety for Henry's benefit. This suggests that humanity is innately "good." The exception to this theme are the teenage girls whom Henry and Aymo pick up during their retreat from Caporetto in Book 3, Chapter 28. Here the girls illustrate the effects of war on civilians and accentuate Henry's morality. They are clearly terrified, not just of the war but of being raped by their soldier escorts. While Aymo seeks to take advantage of the girls, Henry seeks to get them to a place of safety.

Why did Hemingway include a billiard game between Henry and Count Greffi in A Farewell to Arms?

The conversation between Henry and Count Greffi in Book 4, Chapter 35, serves to further the religious motif in the novel by clarifying Henry's current spiritual status. Here the reader sees the results of Henry's spiritual journey that began long ago in the form of debates with the priest. The conversation kicks off with Henry declaring, "I don't know about the soul." By the end of the conversation, it is clear that Henry has simplified his religion to love, and Count Greffi supports him by saying, "Then too you are in love. Do not forget that is a religious feeling." Henry's conversation with Greffi illustrates how Henry has evolved spiritually throughout the course of the novel.

Discuss whether or not Catherine should be considered brave in A Farewell to Arms.

On the surface Catherine is brave. She enters into a nontraditional relationship despite strict social conventions of the time. She sneaks around with Henry despite the risk that she might lose her job and despite the social conventions of the time. She rows a rowboat in the middle of a storm. She powers through a brutal labor and delivery despite unimaginable pain. Underneath her brave exterior, however, is a woman ridden with guilt over her dead fiancé. Rather than being truly brave, Catherine is really a broken woman so terrified of facing reality that she constructs an elaborate fantasy world to escape it.

How does Henry's character change in A Farewell to Arms?

At the opening of the novel, Henry is apathetic. He doesn't care about the war, his future, or arguably even his life. He loves no one, and nothing aside from base pleasures brings him any happiness. Being injured in a mortar explosion in Book 1, Chapter 9, shakes Henry out of this depressed reality. The destruction of his leg, coupled with his passionate affair with Catherine, injects life back into his soul. During the military retreat, Henry knows he cannot go back to that depressed state (or die), so he deserts, choosing instead to inhabit the world he and Catherine have created. In the Swiss mountains, Henry's personal identity (and apathy) is gone. Here he is only Catherine's perfect lover. At the end of the novel, his happiness is snatched away when Catherine dies, and his character returns to a depressed state. Now, however, Henry knows that life is fleeting, and there are some things worth fighting—and sacrificing—for.

How does A Farewell to Arms reflect the worldview of the Lost Generation?

The Lost Generation were those artists and writers who came of age during World War I. It is no surprise that A Farewell to Arms, written by a leader of the Lost Generation about that generation's formative experience, reflects that worldview. It is more than the topic that makes A Farewell to Arms a work of the Lost Generation, though. Its themes of disillusionment and the pointlessness of war epitomize the viewpoint of the Lost Generation. The war weariness of characters such as Henry, Passini, and Bonello brings home this point. Even the priest grows tired of the war. Rinaldi's escape into hedonism is also a reflection of the Lost Generation, as many Lost Generation writers—Hemingway included—turned to alcohol as an escape.

Why doesn't Henry seem to care that the baby dies in A Farewell to Arms?

Henry and Catherine were happy in their role-playing fantasies, but the baby represents a harsh reality that neither wants to face. Henry admits to feeling trapped by the pregnancy, which suggests that he never really wanted it. He justifies his lack of grief by saying that the baby had probably already been dead for a week and that he knew it because the baby had stopped kicking. He also predicts that, because the baby died, so would Catherine. Thematically, because Henry and Catherine's relationship is doomed from the beginning, no true happiness could come from it, which is why the baby had to die and why Henry could feel no grief for the loss.

How does disillusionment affect Henry in A Farewell to Arms?

Henry is affected by two types of disillusionment. First, he must deal with his disillusionment with the war. Over the course of his career, he realizes that, despite great danger and loss, he contributed very little. He went from volunteering to join the Italians to deserting them as he realized that he no longer believed in the cause. Henry must also deal with his disillusionment with love. He thought, however naively, that he and Catherine could have been happy together. But the novel tells the reader over and over that happiness is impossible: shelter from life's cruelty is fleeting, and death is the inevitable end. He first realized he couldn't have a perfect romance when Catherine became pregnant, but he pushed those negative feelings aside. When Catherine died, however, he could no longer deny life's cruelty and the impossibility of love.

Is A Farewell to Arms an antiwar novel?

The descriptions of horrific injuries, disorganized battles, subpar medical care, and disillusioned soldiers send the message that war is brutal. Hemingway's descriptions of everyday Italians like Emilio, the frightened young girls, and the generous proprietor suggest that the Everyman is not responsible for the horrors of war and should be protected. Hemingway's spare writing style provides vivid descriptions of war and lets readers draw their own conclusions about war.

What is the moral message of A Farewell to Arms?

The moral message of A Farewell to Arms is that life is cruel and death is inevitable. Because death is indiscriminate, choosing victims at random, a person cannot know when his or her time is coming. Therefore people should grasp at happiness wherever they can find it. This message is played out in the behaviors of the soldiers, in the fates of the soldiers such as the ambulance driver Passini, and in Catherine and Henry's idyllic romance.

How does A Farewell to Arms define manhood?

In A Farewell to Arms, the men worth respecting are strong, brave, red-blooded men who love women and alcohol and who roll stoically with life's punches. Men do things because it is their duty, whether they want to or not. Men should be bold in decisions and actions, whether in bedding a woman or killing an enemy on the battlefield. There is no glory or happiness for Hemingway's heroes, however; they are simply an embodiment of the way in which Hemingway wished to live.

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