Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Lieutenant Frederic Henry
Lieutenant Frederic Henry, an American who has volunteered to serve with an Italian ambulance unit during World War I. Like his Italian companions, he enjoys drinking, trying to treat the war as a joke, and (it is implied) visiting brothels. Before the beginning of a big offensive, he meets Catherine Barkley, one of a group of British nurses assigned to staff a hospital unit. Henry begins the prelude to an affair with her but is interrupted by having to go to the front during the offensive; he is wounded, has an operation on his knee, and is sent to recuperate in Milan, where he again meets Miss Barkley, falls in love with her, and sleeps with her in his hospital room. When Henry returns to the front, he knows Catherine is pregnant. In the retreat from Caporetto, Henry is seized at a bridge across the Tagliamento River and realizes he is about to be executed for deserting his troops. He escapes by swimming the river. At Stresa, he rejoins Catherine and, before he can be arrested for desertion, the two lovers row across Lake Como to Switzerland. For a few months, they live happily at an inn near Montreux—hiking, reading, and discussing American sights (such as Niagara Falls, the stockyards, and the Golden Gate) that Catherine must see after the war. Catherine is to have her baby in a hospital. Her stillborn son is delivered by Caesarian section; that same night, Catherine dies. Lieutenant Henry walks back to his hotel...
(The entire section is 656 words.)
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The central characters are the star-crossed lovers, Catherine Barkley and Frederic Henry. Critics sometimes accuse Catherine as being an impossibly romantic character, a creation utterly unconvincing as a human personality. Many readers, however, find her quite credible and convincing. In any case, she is the necessary priestess of love in the novel's scheme of things. She is also a nurse whose function is to nourish and to sustain the wounded. Most importantly, she is the lover, the character who embodies the exemplar-priest's vision: "When you love you wish to do things for. You wish to sacrifice for. You wish to serve." This is the primary lesson she imparts to the novel's apprentice-protagonist, Frederic.
Among Frederic's other exemplars may be numbered the gentle priest, with his vision of sacred love, his sense of dignity and decorum and uncorrupted traditional values as imparted through the symbolic landscape of his home-country, the Abruzzi, where Frederic wishes to go. Another exemplar is the venerable Count Greffi, a minor character somewhat reminiscent of the Count in The Sun Also Rises (1926, a polite and civilized man with excellent taste, a firm grasp on values, who, at age ninety-four, plays a very solid, precise game of billiards, and who, above all, helps Frederic to see that his love for Catherine is a "religious feeling."
(The entire section is 217 words.)
As with other Hemingway works, the element of character study in A Farewell to Arms is as important as the story being told about those characters. At the center of the story are the ill-fated lovers, Frederic and Catherine, surrounded by a supporting cast of many minor characters.
Frederic Henry, the narrator and protagonist of the novel, appears at the beginning of the novel to be shallow and a little unfeeling. He is an American who has come to Italy to study architecture, then joined the Italian ambulance corps at the outbreak of the First World War. He has achieved the rank of lieutenant, commanding a fleet of ambulances in the field, but has joined up not from any sense of supporting a cause but from a desire for adventure. He appears to enjoy the lifestyle—drinking, socializing with his fellow officers, and womanizing. When he first meets Catherine Barkley, his interest in her is as a potential physical conquest—however he gradually realizes he is becoming attached to her and, later, that he is in love with her.
As his feelings for Catherine deepen, so too do his feelings about the war. Before he meets her, he sees the war as a bit of an adventure and is detached from any deep feelings of fighting for a cause. Being an American in the Italian army, he does not feel a patriotic involvement in the war but does hold the belief that the war is necessary—he says it is better to fight...
(The entire section is 970 words.)
A Farewell to Arms is Frederic Henry’s story of what happened to him during the First World War. Frederic is an American serving the Italian army as an ambulance driver. While in the service of the Italians, he falls in love with an English nurse named Catherine Barkley. He is wounded and sent to a hospital in Milan. Catherine transfers to the same hospital and they spend an idyllic time together as he recovers. Once his wounds have healed, Frederic must return to the front. Soon after he arrives, the Italian line breaks, and during the retreat from the Germans, he decides he has had enough of the war and deserts rather than be killed by battle police. After reuniting with his love, they flee to Switzerland. Once safely in the neutral nation, they pass the time playing cards until Catherine's baby is due. Both she and the baby die in childbirth and Frederic is left alone.
Frederic Henry’s story reveals his education by various “tutors”: the priest, Rinaldi, Catherine, the mechanics, and the war. Each try to impress upon Frederic a different lesson but he merely reacts to each. For example, the priest tries to persuade Frederic onto a moral and Christian path. In doing so, he extends an invitation to Frederic to visit his family. Frederic accepts, but instead chooses the more typical adventures of an officer on leave—he goes drinking and visits the brothels. He tries to explain his decision to the priest, saying, “we did not do...
(The entire section is 535 words.)
An English nurse with the Red Cross, Catherine Barkley is introduced to Henry through Rinaldi in Chapter IV. Frederic perceives “Miss Barkley [as] quite tall. She wore what seemed to be a nurse’s uniform, was blonde and had tawny skin and gray eyes. I thought she was very beautiful.” Rinaldi, on the other hand, calls her a “lovely cool goddess.” These two examples summarize the critical views of Catherine—she is thought to be either a heroine or a sex object.
Not surprisingly, Catherine prefers Frederic to Rinaldi and begins a game of love with Frederic. She tells the story of how her fiance had been horribly killed in the battle of the Somme but Frederic doesn’t say anything. “They blew him all to bits,” Catherine tells Frederic, who says nothing. She had imagined something far more picturesque like a sabre cut, which she would have joyously attended to. But this is World War I—trenches, mortars, and “bits”—and its horrors are awesome. Catherine reveals, through the tale of her childhood lover's death, how much more hardened by war she is than Frederic. Certainly, she has known the tragedy more intimately.
As a nurse, Catherine is able to transfer herself to the hospital where Frederic is recovering. Then, she flees with him to Switzerland where she dies from internal bleeding resulting from a difficult childbirth. In her death she is the picture of heroism and her statements are full of dark humor. “I’m not...
(The entire section is 375 words.)
Aymo is one of Frederic Henry’s ambulance drivers during the Italian army’s retreat. He is also the driver Frederic is closest to. During the retreat, Aymo generously picks up two peasant woman with assurances that he will not rape them. This assurance frightens them even more—they, unfortunately, only recognize the one word of Aymo’s Italian. It is also Aymo who is mistakenly shot by the Italian rear guard. It is a tragic mistake both for its stupidity and because he was Frederic’s friend. Aymo’s role, then, is as a symbol of innocence killed by the stupidity of war.
Another of Frederic’s drivers, Bonello is a lively sort who is looking forward to champagne at Udine—the end of the retreat. It is Bonello who asks to kill the sergeant that Frederic shot and wounded for not obeying orders. Later, after Aymo is shot, Bonello decides he would rather risk capture by the Germans than be killed by the Italians.
See Catherine Barkley
See Ralph Simmons
Helen is a Scottish nurse with the Red Cross and a friend to Catherine Barkley. She makes it a point to tell Rinaldi that there is a difference between the Scottish and English. However, the translation is not very clear and Rinaldi understands her to mean that she dislikes Catherine. Helen is...
(The entire section is 1110 words.)