A Farewell to Arms Readalong II

The Farewell to Arms readalong is hosted at the War Through the Generations blog.

For this week, we read chapters 11-20.  Here are this week’s questions, feel free to join the discussion.

1. There is a lot of talk about being tired or the priest looking tired in this section.  What do you think Hemingway is trying to get at?

War exhausts everyone in the vicinity whether they're actually fighting or not.  The priest isn't fighting, but if he's working near the front or in a hospital (I can't quite tell from the story what he does, but he's working with ambulance drivers, right?), it's his job to comfort the dying, wounded, and distressed.  A priest in WWI had a lot of tough questions to answer!   And then he spends a lot of his time being needled by everyone else, too, which seems to be the main preoccupation, as though he never does any actual priesting.  Anyway, I'm not surprised he's tired.

2.  The relationship between Henry and Catherine is heating up.  At one point she talks about how there is no separate her and that she is Henry.  Please explain what you think she means.

I think that, insofar as she is a character and not a cardboard cutout labeled "The Girl!" (I'm not sure understanding and writing women characters was really Hemingway's strong point), she is kind of a ninny. She wants to sacrifice her self for a great love or something, but really they're in a closed environment having an affair.  She's throwing herself into it, and I don't think Henry really is, and if they leave the hospital they might both find they haven't got much in common and don't know what to do with each other.

3.  What are your impressions of Henry so far given his reaction to the war, being wounded, falling in love, and his relationships to others?

I still feel like I don't particularly know him at all, except that he drinks a lot and he really likes Catherine, because she's pretty and cooperative and there.  He's a reasonably intelligent guy, I think, and willing to be stubborn about what he thinks.  But that distance Hemingway uses so much just bugs me.  (I'm also reading Flaubert, and I know Emma Bovary far better now, though I've read much less of the book.  I don't like her, but I know her!)

4. What do you think of Hemingway’s writing style and the story itself so far? Are you enjoying it?

I'm liking it better now, but still not much.  There are high spots here and there, but they mostly don't involve Catherine, or Henry for that matter--I like reading about the priest or Rinaldi or the doctors.  Interesting that in a novel about World War I the war practically never comes into it.  (Those Charles Todd mysteries that use WWI as a backdrop have more of the war even though they take place almost entirely in England.)  Maybe we'll get to the front at some point?

Here is Hemingway in 1918.  I bet he was much too handsome for his own good, and drank too much.  He really did drive an ambulance and get wounded by a rocket and get a medal.

Part I
Part II
Part III

Part IV


  1. Makes me wonder how much of the story is autobiographical?

    It really is frustrating that we don't really get to know the characters, and Catherine is really getting on my nerves!

    Thanks for participating.

  2. I love that you call Catherine a Ninny! I couldn't agree more....her character bothers me more than anything else in the book.

    I think this is partially autobiographical...I also like Rinaldi and would like to see more of him or more of the war.

    Thanks for participating, and I have to interject that Madame Bovary was one of my favorite books for a long while.

  3. Very interesting commentary Jean.

    I have not read this book but have wanted to for a long time. I have read many of Hemingway's short stories and really like him. Have you read "For Whom the Bell Tolls"? I loved that one. It is also a book that centers on people during wartime.

  4. Thanks Brian! No, this is actually the first Hemingway I've ever read. I've spent much of my life successfully avoiding reading American literature, so I'm trying to mend that a bit. :)

  5. I think the war permeates everything they do or think, and that becomes increasingly obvious as the novel winds towards its inevitably dark conclusion.


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