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Course Hero, "A Farewell to Arms Study Guide," July 28, 2016, accessed December 15, 2017, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/A-Farewell-to-Arms/.

A Farewell to Arms | Plot Summary

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Summary

Lieutenant Frederic Henry, an American, has volunteered to join the Italian army as an ambulance driver during World War I. The novel opens in the late autumn of 1916 in the Italian-Austrian border town of Gorizia. The Italians are delaying an offensive attack until after the winter. During the break Henry travels on leave, visiting bustling cities and brothels on the recommendation of his best friend, Lieutenant Rinaldi, a surgeon. When he returns Henry notes that nothing has changed in his absence. Rinaldi is happy to have his friend home and takes him to meet the British nurse with whom he claims to have fallen in love, Catherine Barkley. Catherine and Henry connect immediately, despite the fact that Catherine is still mourning her fiancé, killed in battle in France. To distract themselves they strike up a game in which they pretend to be in love.

Fighting resumes and, while Henry is on a mission at the front, a trench mortar explodes, killing one driver instantly and grievously wounding another. Henry tries in vain to save the injured driver, but it is useless. Two other soldiers drag Henry away and load him onto an ambulance. Henry's legs are damaged and need surgery, so he is sent to a hospital in Milan. While the first doctors claim that it will be months before they can operate on him, a bold Italian surgeon agrees to perform the surgery the next day. The operation goes well, and Henry stays in Milan to recover. By coincidence, Catherine has been stationed at the same hospital, giving their romance a chance to blossom.

While Henry is in recovery, his romance with Catherine grows into a passionate love. Despite contracting jaundice at the end of his hospital stay, Henry is sent back to the front. Before he leaves Catherine announces that she is pregnant. She rejects Henry's marriage proposal, saying that she already feels married and does not need a ceremony.

Much has changed when Henry returns to the front. Rinaldi, who was once charming and vivacious, has become dark and bitter. His teasing of the unnamed character simply known as "the priest" has transformed from playful banter to vicious outrage. He has seen too much in this war, and his mind is slightly addled by syphilis. Additionally, the Italian army is doing poorly in the war. They have suffered great losses, and disengagement has spread across the ranks, even to officers. During an offensive strike, the German army easily breaks the Italian line, causing a retreat. Chaos erupts as Italian soldiers begin throwing away their guns in the hope of ending the war. During the retreat Henry's ambulance gets stuck in the mud, and he shoots and kills an Italian sergeant who disobeys his orders.

As the Italians reach the border, battle police arrive and pluck officers out of line for questioning. One by one they are shot. Henry flees by jumping into a river and swimming to safety. Wearing borrowed civilian clothing, he sneaks onto a train and travels to the town of Stresa, where he is reunited with Catherine. Hiding out in a hotel, Henry learns that the battle police have tracked him down and intend to arrest him. In the middle of a treacherous rainstorm, Catherine and Henry board a rowboat and row to neutral Switzerland, 35 kilometers (about 22 miles) away. After avoiding arrest by patrol officers there, the couple spends a glorious winter hidden away in the mountains. In the spring Catherine goes into labor. After a protracted and agonizing night, she delivers a stillborn son. A few hours later, she hemorrhages and dies. Alone, Henry walks home from the hospital in the rain.

A Farewell to Arms Plot Diagram

Falling ActionRising ActionResolutionClimax123456789101112Introduction

Introduction

1 Henry describes life on the front in the winter of 1916.

Rising Action

2 Henry and Catherine meet.

3 A mortar explodes, wounding Henry.

4 Henry recovers under Catherine's care; their love blossoms.

5 Catherine reveals that she is pregnant.

6 Henry is sent back to the front.

7 Germans break the line; the Italians retreat.

8 Henry kills a sergeant for insubordination.

Climax

9 Henry deserts the army, fleeing arrest.

Falling Action

10 Henry and Catherine are reunited in Stresa.

11 They row to Switzerland, where they spend the winter.

Resolution

12 Catherine and the baby die during childbirth.

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