One motif, a recurring structure that furthers the development of theme, is that of "Illusions and Fantasies." This motif occurs in the relationship of Frederic Henry and Catherine Barkley, who meet while Henry drives an ambulance in the Italian army. After being introduced to her a field hospital and learning that her fiance has been killed, Henry Catherine slaps him, but Henry just considers this part of the game between men and women.
Then, in Book II, after Henry is injured and brought to the Milan hospital, he asks if Catherine Barkley is there. When she enters the room, having lost her fiance, she pretends to be infatuated with Henry by saying, “Hello, darling.” Engaging in the fantasy, Henry narrates, “When I saw her I was in love with her.” Henry convinces her to get into bed with him, telling her he is “crazy in love” with her. Catherine promises to return. After Dr. Valentini arranges for Henry's knee to be operated on, Catherine returns to him and they pretend again as she asks him if he has ever loved anyone else. When Henry tells her "none," she replies,
"It's all right. Keep right on lying to me. That's what I want you to do. Were they pretty?"
Later, Catherine declares,
"...I'll say just what you wish and I'll do what you wish and then you will never want any other girls, will you?,,,,I'll do what you want and say what you want and then I'll be a great success, won't I?"
Frederic Henry and Catherine Bakley continue to revel in their fantasies as Henry narrates that he loves her very much and she loves him. However, this illusion eventually becomes a reality as they grow to truly love each other. Nevertheless, they create fantasies and illusions in order to deal with the harshness of life and the war.
Throughout the summer, Henry and Catherine spend as much time as possible with one another, going for carriage rides in the park. When Henry waits for Catherine to come, he feels that it is as though she has been away on a long trip. Pulling all the pins out of her hair, Catherine creates "a tent" or "falls" out of her long hair under which Henry and Catherine together take cover (18). When Henry says he wants to marry Catherine, she defers, saying they are already married; if they had a ceremony, she would be sent back.
Further, in Chapter 22 before Henry leaves, they fantasize about skiing together. After Henry and Catherine flee to Switzerland because Henry is a deserter, they again engage in fantasy as Henry grows a beard and Catherine gets her hair cut in Chapter 38, telling Henry that they then can "look alike."
As a means of coping with the harshness of their lives in a wartorn country, Frederic Henry and Catherine Barkley pretend love, then they fall in love, yet engaging in fantasies to dispel the dark gloom of the reality of war.