For Hemingway, man's greatest achievement is showing "grace under pressure"; thus grace under pressure is a repeated theme in his novels. How do the main characters of A Farewell to Arms show this aspect in their characters?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Hello! The Hemingway hero is a man of action who faces danger unflinchingly. When presented with setbacks, dilemmas or impossible situations, he is calm and detached while he plots his course of action. He is quiet steel or ferocious fighting machine: however one chooses to describe the Hemingway hero, he is the personification of grace under pressure.

Hemingway's Frederic Henry is a young ambulance driver serving in the Italian army during WWI. As an ambulance driver, he eventually leads his team into the midst of evacuating Italian forces after word comes through that the Germans have broken past the defensive Italian lines. Henry and his team take a different route but some of the vehicles get bogged down in mud. Eventually, one of his team (Aymo) is shot and another (Bonello) surrenders. The frightened and retreating Italians are firing on anyone they see; rumor has it that German soldiers are dressed in Italian uniforms. Meanwhile, Henry and Piani are the only ones left of the original group, and they take refuge in a farmhouse.

They eventually march on but are captured by battle police. When the battle police start executing Italian officers for supposedly deserting their troops, Henry makes a brave escape. He runs for the river and stays underwater for as long as he can in order to avoid the gunshots which ring all around him. A Hemingway hero acts decisively and with confidence when the situation calls for it. Grace under pressure is exemplified by Henry's courage and steely determination in refusing to be a victim.

Henry eventually boards a train to Milan and reunites with his lover, Catherine, in Stresa. They settle happily in Montreux to await the birth of their baby. The birth is difficult, and when the nurse asks Henry whether he is proud of his new baby boy, he replies with a curt

"No," ... He nearly killed his mother."

Eventually, he finds out that the baby is stillborn. Although he feels sorry that the baby died, he seems much more concerned about Catherine. When he learns that Catherine is hemorrhaging badly, he knows that she is going to die. Even though he is not a religious man, he begs God to let her live. Sadly, he is proven right when Catherine does not survive the relentless hemorrhaging. When the sympathetic doctor offers to take Henry to his hotel, he refuses politely and calmly. Resolute, he aims to go in to say his last goodbye to Catherine. When the nurses object, he quietly tells them to get out. Yet, the experience of saying goodbye leaves him without comfort, for

It was like saying good-by to a statue. After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain.

In the face of an insurmountable loss, the Hemingway hero is calmly resigned to his fate. He does not engage in hysterics or melodramatic grieving. Alone, he may grieve, but as a proud man, he will not give way to weakness in front of those who depend upon him or those he does not know. Frederic Henry exemplifies all the traits of a Hemingway hero.

Thanks for the question.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team