Frederic Henry, an American ambulance driver during the First World War, meets a nurse from Britain. When a munitions explosion at the frontline injures him, Henry is hospitalized in Milan where he and Catherine get close. Henry has a different perspective regarding the war from this point onwards. He perceives it as brutality rather than a necessary thing. This factor brings him closer to Catherine. He expresses his affection for Catherine.
“You don’t believe me. We will go now this afternoon and see. And in the town we have beautiful English girls. I am now in love with Miss Barkley. I will take you to call. I will probably marry Miss Barkley.” (Hemingway 17).
Henry also enquires the opinion of his friends over his intention to marry Miss Barkley.
“There are few real wounded. Next week the war starts again. Perhaps it starts again. They say so. Do you think I would do right to marry miss Barkley-after the war of course?” (Hemingway 18).
Henry has unrealistic expectations about the war and their relationship. On the other hand, Catherine is a mature woman, and is more realistic about the situation. She is emotionally scarred by the war after her first fiancee dies in a battle. When Frederic meets and courts her, their love brews in a tense environment.
The two are forced together by circumstances. Henry does not like the war, and wishes that the war ended. He tells Catherine that they should abandon the war. Catherine knows better, and tells him that war is inevitable. She says that it is more painful to abandon the war than to fight. This shows how Catherine is emotionally involved in the war, while Frederic is infatuated with her.
“We kissed and she broke away suddenly, ‘No please. Goodnight darling.’ we walked to the door and I saw her get in and go down the hallway. I liked to watch her move. She continued down the hall. I went on home. There was a great deal going on. I watched the flashes on San Gabriel.” (Hemingway 32).
In the beginning, Henry is not sure of his love for Catherine. However, he later falls in love with her. Their perseverance through the war is brought to an end by the executions that are taking place due to breach of battle rules. To avoid getting into a dangerous situation, Henry escapes the front line to join Catherine. Their love for each other becomes obvious while they are in Milan. It is disclosed that hostility of the military persuaded him to desert.
“‘One of those shot by the carabinieri is from my home town.’ Passini said. ‘He was a big smart boy in the granatieri. Always in Rome. Always with the girls. Now they have a guard outside his house with a bayonet so that nobody can come to see his mother and father. They are all without law to protect them’” (Hemingway 50).
The war is a major factor in the love affair between the soldier and the nurse. When Henry goes into war, he is oblivious of the concept of love. The events of war, particularly his injury by the munitions explosion makes him develop affection for Catherine. Initially Henry finds it difficult to master any affection for Catherine. It takes a possible extermination during the war, for Henry to decide to escape to Milan.
“The next day, we left for Milan and arrived forty eight hours later. It was a bad trip. We were side tracked for a long time this side of mestre and children came and peeked in.” (Hemingway 76).
The armed conflict plays a major role in developing Henry’s mind and perception of the world and life. In the first stages of the conflict, Henry is dedicated to the war and is not interested in a love affair. He is content with liquor and casual sexual affairs.
When for the first time Henry becomes involve with Catherine, he realizes that the world has another perspective. This signifies that Henry’s mind has matured since both lovers exhibit absolute dedication to their relationship. A conversation within the Milan hospital reveals this.
“Have you seen Miss Barkley?”
“I’ll bring her here.”
“Don’t go.” I said.
“Tell me about Gorizia. How are the girls?”
“There are no girls. For two weeks, they have not changed them. I don’t go there anymore. It’s disgraceful. They aren’t girls. They are old war comrades.” (Hemingway 63).
The relationship between Henry and Catherine seems to be a result of circumstances the lovers finds themselves in. War is the perfect condition for development of the right attitude in Henry. Catherine also gives in to the pressures of attending to the patients, and seeks solace in the love affair with Henry. The story seems rather sad since Catherine passes away at the end of the novel.
Had there been no war, Catherine would not have met Henry. Frederic’s duty of ferrying the wounded at the frontline puts him directly in contact with Catherine. The war generates the circumstances that lead to the union between the two lovers.
Hemingway, Ernest. A farewell to arms. New York: Scribner, 1929. Print.