I read Old Man and the Sea in one setting so I’ve been looking forward to getting my hands on more Hemingway and I finally found a copy of A Farewell to Arms in a thrift store. The balance of love and pain Hemingway puts into his writing reminds me of another great American writer I enjoy, Steinbeck. Farewell was a nice read and had me all the way to the end.
An American, Frederick Henry, joins the Italian army to join the war effort against Austria. He counts himself lucky to find his way to becoming an ambulance driver. The position, he knew, had some danger but he considered it much more mild experience than the grunts at the front saw. Early in the book, Hemingway built the grim scene of the war in Italy. It seemed very light (in comparison to today’s standards), as soon as the snow came, the two sides settled down and put off the fighting until spring. War was merely a summer job, while Henry traveled and experienced Italian culture in the winter. Henry and his friend, Ronaldi, talked of women, travel, and booze. They were men’s men as Hemingway is known to build masculine characters. Ronaldi introduced Frederick to Catherine, a British nurse and the two became playful as she warned Henry not to fall in love. She had been in love with another soldier and his life was taken, so she was unsure she could love another soldier.
As the next war session commenced, Henry was preparing to start his duty near the front and was severely wounded. His leg was blown with a bomb and he spent the rest of the summer in a hospital in Milan. Catherine was transferred there and a proper romance began between the two. Soon Catherine found herself carrying his child and they made plans to be together after the war.
After surgery, Henry returned to the war. The Austrians were strong and led the Italians into a massive retreat. This was a major low-point of the novel. Lines of trucks were waiting for the proceeding vehicles to move forward. As they patiently waited, in the back of their minds, the Austrians were getting nearer. Henry made a decision to lead his group of ambulances to side roads to bypass the traffic jam. A peaceful man, readers are surprised to find Henry killing a couple of engineers who walk away when he orders them to help get the trucks free from the mud they were trapped in. Henry’s group walks the rest of the retreat. As they neared their destination, Henry realized officers were being killed for leading their men in a cowardly retreat. He was being questioned and about to be shot, when he dashed and dove into a river and floated to freedom.
Henry hopped a train and found his pregnant love, Catherine waiting. He was unsure of the plan, but a friend alerted him in the middle of the night that he was identified and would be arrested in the morning. Henry and Catherine borrowed the friend’s boat and rowed all night across a lake to the safety of Switzerland. There, the couple enjoyed the winter and talked of where to settle down.
Catherine went into labor early in the Spring. As they waited in the hospital, the contractions continued, but the baby wasn’t coming. The doctor ordered a cesarean and prepped for surgery. Henry worried and prayed. He knew his love was in danger. The baby had been strangled by his cord and didn’t survive. Catherine was recovering later that morning and they found she was hemorrhaging. She was lost as well. Henry was left with nothing.
While the ending sad, it was expected. Though he wrote such a romantic escape, they were so close to living out their happy lives together, alas, life is not perfect. Hemingway showed us it can completely fall apart in the last chapter of our book.