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Catherine as Code Hero in Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms

Catherine as “Code Hero” in A Farewell to Arms

In the last book of A Farewell to Arms, when the pregnant Catherine Barkley is having painful contractions, Frederic Henry, the narrator and protagonist of the novel, reminds his “wife” that she is “a brave good girl” (FTA 313). A day later, after undergoing a caesarian section and giving birth to a stillborn baby boy, Catherine proves just how brave she is; though she knows she is dying, she still has the dignity and strength to accept such a fate. In fact, she finds herself in the (unfair) position of trying to comfort her distraught lover. With death approaching, Catherine’s candor is remarkable since her final words to Frederic suggest she possesses some sense or understanding of her own mortality and of what is soon to come: “I’m not a bit afraid. It’s just a dirty trick” (FTA 331). The “it” Catherine refers to is presumably death, but, in fact, the indefinite may be referring to life, a process Catherine views as a “rotten game” (FTA 31), since so much about it is left to chance and death is always the end. Such an insight advanced by Catherine is not at all unusual, for, from the time she and Frederic first fall into love and up until the time of her death, Catherine repeatedly reveals her inherent heroic qualities, especially in the way she reflects the Hemingway “code hero” criterion of “grace under pressure.”

Yet critics have repeatedly misunderstood Catherine since the time of the novel’s publication some seventy years ago. Those engaging in distinctly feminist analyses over the past twenty-five years have been particularly harsh on Hemingway’s characterization of Catherine, viewing it as patronizing and shallow. In her response to the phallocentri…

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…s by Ernest Hemingway.

The New York Times 29 Sept. 1929: 5.

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The Irrelevant God in Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms

The Irrelevant God in A Farewell to Arms

A Farewell to Arms begins with a god’s-eye-view, cinematic pan of the hills surrounding Gorizia-the camera of our mind’s eye, racing forward through time, sweeps up and down the landscape, catching isolated events of the first year in the town as it goes. The film ultimately slows to a crawl, passing through the window of a whorehouse to meet the eyes of Frederic Henry watching the snow falling. As we attach ourselves to Frederic Henry’s perspective we turn (as he turns) back to the conversation at hand, a theological debate between the priest and Lieutenant Rinaldi. This debate, its dialectic made flesh in these two polar opposites, is a central question of A Farewell to Arms: What is our relationship to God? This is, indeed, the overriding philosophic arc of the novel; A Farewell to Arms can be seen as the synthesizing of these two worldviews into Henry’s final relationship with God.

Fredrick Henry’s silence during this original debate is very telling-it indicates, of course, that he has not yet made up his mind. It would be very easy for him to cast his lot with either Rinaldi and his atheists or the priest, yet he remains silent as they talk-even after comments about an antireligious book called Black Pig are directed at him from both camps. “It is very valuable. It tells you about those priest. You will like it,” says Rinaldi. “Don’t you read it,” responds the priest (8). Henry’s only comment in this chapter is his statement that the coming of winter will end the offensive-a comment which is seized upon by the group and used as another bone of contention for the group. The priest wants Henry to go to the Abruzzi: “There is good hunting. You would lik…

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…ta P, 1984.

Bloom, Harold. Introduction. Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea, 1987.

Donaldson, Scott. Frederic Henry’s Escape and the Pose of Passivity. Hemingway: A Revaluation. Ed. Donald R. Noble. Troy: Whitson, 1983.

Fenton, Charles A. The Apprenticeship of Ernest Hemingway. New York: Farrar, 1954.

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Killinger, John. Hemingway and the Dead Gods: A Study in Existentialism. Lexington: U of Kentucky P, 1960.

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