A Farewell to Arms

A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway, is somewhat of
a Romeo and Juliet love story, with a tragic ending. In this
novel, Romeo is Frederick Henry and Juliet is Catherine
Barkley. Their love affair must survive the everything that is
around them during World War I. The setting of this novel is
war-torn Italy. The love between Catherine and Frederick
must outlast long separations, life-threatening war situations,
and the uncertainty of each other's whereabouts or
condition. This is a love story of two people who need each
other in a period of chaos.

The book A Farewell to Arms is partly autobiographical.
Hemingway , like his hero, was a Red Cross ambulance
driver on the Italian Front in World War I. Not only was
Hemingway wounded in the war, but he also recuperated in
a hospital in Italy. During his recuperation, Hemingway had a
very romantic liaison with a nurse. The relationships between
the characters in the novel, including doctors, soldiers, etc.,
reflect the actual relationships Hemingway had during his
stay in Italy, and the plot of the story is historically as well as
geographically accurate. Before Ernest Hemingway wrote
the book A Farewell to Arms, he was already regarded as
a good literary writer, but after the publication of this book
he was considered a great one. A Farewell to Arms was
Hemingway’s first commercial success, selling over 80,000
copies in the first four months.

In this story there are only two main characters, Frederick
Henry and Catherine

Barkley. Frederick Henry acts as both the narrator and
central character in the novel. The reader is not told so much
about Catherine, only what is understood from Frederick’s
point of view. Catherine acts as a static character in the
novel. She has already known love and lost it so she
understands that she cannot build her whole life around
Frederick. Frederick, on the other hand, is a very dynamic
character, and he has to come to grips with many of the
principles of life and death that Catherine has already
learned. There are few other characters in the book of any
significance, but of some small importance are Rinaldi, who
is Frederick’s best friend on the fighting front, and also the
priest in Frederick’s company whom he befriends and with
whom he has long talks about life.

The plot structure of A Farewell to Arms starts out with an
introduction to the major characters and with the setting of
the war. Hemingway also introduces the various problems
each main character struggles with throughout the novel.
Catherine Barkley and Frederick Henry are introduced to
each other casually and the reader begins to wonder what
will come of the relationship between the two characters.
This seems to be the narrative hook in the novel. Following
this the reader is told about various scenes of war, and
further introduced to Frederick Henry’s character.
Frederick is then wounded in war and shipped back to the
hospital. In the hospital Frederick and Catherine are reunited
and the reader sees the development of love between the
two characters. After Frederick’s stay in the hospital he is
sent back to battle and has to leave Catherine. However,
after only a short time back at the front Frederick Henry,
seeing the lack of discipline and confusion in the army’s
retreat at Caporetto, deserts and returns to the stability of
his relationship with Catherine. The battle at Caporetto is the
climax in the war action part of the novel, but there is still
rising action in the love story. Frederick Henry makes a
successful escape to Switzerland with Catherine, and all
seems to go well for them for a time. A child had been
conceived during their affair but during the birth Catherine
begins hemorrhaging. She delivers the baby stillborn and
soon after dies. This scene is the climax of the novel. After
Catherine dies the book ends very abruptly, leaving very
little falling action.

In the novel there are two very prominent types of conflict.
One is man verses man, which is seen constantly in the
battles of the war, and the constant fighting that takes place
as a background in the story. The other type of conflict that
we see is man verses himself, which is shown in Frederick’s
constant struggle within himself. Since we are told of
Frederick’s thoughts we know constantly of the internal
struggle within himself over everything from his love for
Catherine to his thoughts during battle in the war. The
conflict that Frederick experiences within himself starts at the
beginning of the novel and is not resolved until Catherine’s

The theme that Hemingway seems to emphasize throughout
the novel is the search for order