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The Dangers of a Feminist Perspective of A Farewell to Arms

The Dangers of a Feminist Perspective of A Farewell to Arms

Hemingway’s portrayal of Catherine Barkley in A Farewell to Arms is a subject of many debates. I do not agree with Judith Fetterly that Catherine is “too idealistic, too selflessly loving and giving. Catherine’s death was the most fitting end to the story. Hemingway’s Catherine Barkley may be stereotypical on the surface, but is a much more knowledgeable and strong character underneath.

In the early encounter with Henry, Hemingway sets up Catherine’s major faults. She is shown to us as not being emotionally stable. She says to Henry, “We’re going to have a strange life”(27). This sounds crazy to us, who typically don’t believe that you can know you will have any kind of life with anyone you have just met. This is a time of war, however, and Catherine knows more than we do.She certainly knows more than Henry. She knows that it is a strange time and that loss is a reality. Because she is aware of the constant real threat of loss, this makes her deal with everything as if life was going to end very shortly. This type of thinking is an understandable method of defense against an uncertain end. Her knowledge is greater that his on the pains of war. Another one of her seemingly erratic early actions is the way she slapped his face for kissing her, and then turns around and asks him to kiss her. Not only is this perfectly understandable behavior, it shows an awareness of human nature. It is understandable because in normal times, it would not have been acceptable for her to kiss him so soon. This is war times however, so it is unrealistic to apply the same rules. Everything has a greater sense of urgency. I also think Catherine knows that the reward is swe…

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I think that viewing Catherine from a feminist point of view can be very dangerous. While she is very loving, it is not ridiculously so. She simply works to make their relationship work. She does not think about her own needs all the time, but it is impossible to do that maintain a relationship. She is not selfless but she isn’t selfish eiether. I believe Hemingway portrays her very realistically as a woman in love during a war.

Works Cited

Fetterley, Judith. The Resisting Reader: A Feminist Approach to American Fiction. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1978.

Hemingway, Ernest. A Farewell to Arms. New York: Scribner Paperback Fiction, 1995.

Spofford, William K. “Beyond the Feminist Perspective: Love in A Farewell to Arms.” Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual 1978. Eds. Matthew J. Bruccoli and Richard Layman. Detroit: Gale Research, 1979. 307-12.

A Feminist Alternative to Fetterley’s Criticism of A Farewell to Arms

A Feminist Alternative to Fetterley’s Criticism of A Farewell to Arms

After finishing A Farewell to Arms, I found it difficult to reconcile Judith Fetterley’s feminist attack of the novel with my own personal opinions. I agree that Hemingway does kick women to the curb in his portrayal of Catherine, but my reasons for pinning this crime on Hemingway are different from hers’. Although she means well, Fetterley makes the ridiculous claim that by portraying Catherine as an angelic, selflessly loving “woman to end all women,” Hemingway disguises misogynistic attitudes and a deep-seeded hatred towards the XX chromosome. This claim is not supported by the text. If we look at Hemingway through the lens of his own words, we find that his misogyny does not spring from a “too good to be true” portrait of Catherine, but rather in his tendency to cast her down into the dirt-Catherine is a dependent, baby-manufacturing trap that stifles Lieutenant Henry: “Poor, poor dear Cat. And this was the price you paid for sleeping together. This was the end of the trap” (320). It is his penchant for sex and his need for womanly comfort that keeps Henry coming back to Catherine, not some notion of “love” or true connection. This is Hemingway’s misogyny, however unintentional, unmasked.

But to get a true sense of this “anti-Fetterley” feminist view of the novel, it is important too look at the specifics of Hemingway’s construction of Catherine-facts that stand in direct opposition to Fetterley’s stated attacks.

First of all, Catherine is not Fetterley’s unique and unattainable goddess-she is an object in Henry’s universe, a feast of sensations but nothing more. She is akin to good food and good drink: “‘I was made to eat. My God, yes. Eat and drink and sleep with Catherine'” (233). Indeed, Henry’s thoughts about Catherine, both when he is at the front or by her side, mingle with longings for good wine and reflections on sumptuous meals. In Henry’s world, a good Capri would be nice, a nice hunk of cheese would be grand, and sleeping with Catherine would be sublime. These things all equate to the satisfaction of basic human needs. Every now and then, Henry feels a grumbling in his loins-a periodic hunger for the “cheese” between Catherine’s legs. Hemingway dissolves Catherine into the least common denominator-the object, devoid of meaning or real importance (when Henry isn’t hungry).

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