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Summary of Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms
I. As yet unnamed, the first person narrator states that he and the other ambulance drivers lived in a village and they heard the trucks and artillery that drive down the dusty roads. In the autumn the rains began and they would see the troops shielding the ammunition under capes which made them bulge at the stomach. Small motor cars passed by quickly with officials in them; perhaps, even the King, who lived in Ukline. Then, when winter came and with it the permanent rain seven thousand men came down with cholera.
II. After a year, the Italian army has won battles; the King passes through the town, which has not been destroyed because the Austrians hope to return to it after the war. However, the mountains suffer from the wages of war as the forest of oak trees has been obliterated; soon a snowfall covers the devastated area.
Frederic Henry decides to visit a bordello in the town, where he encounters a friend, with whom he drinks and agrees that the fighting is over for the year. At mess, the men spot the priest assigned to their troop and tease him, but Henry does not join in. The major thinks he may go to Naples, where there are pretty girls.
III. After traveling all winter, Henry locates the others in the same town as before. His roommate Rinaldi, a surgeon, tells Henry there are beautiful girls in Gorizia; in fact, he is in love with Catherine Barkley, who volunteers at the hospital. In the mess hall, Henry sits by the priest who is hurt and disappointed that Henry did not visit his hometown of Abruzzi as he suggested. While the others tease the priest again, Henry does not join in. Rinaldi tries to borrow 50 lire from Henry so he can impress his date.
IV. Henry checks on the ambulances, but finds them well-cared for in his absence. That evening Rinaldi invites him to go to the hospital to see Miss Barkley. There, Miss Barkley sits with Miss Ferguson in the garden, and Henry learns that Miss Barkley's fiance has been killed in the Somme last year.When they return, Rinaldi tells Henry that Miss Barkley prefers him.
V. Henry returns to the hospital and has to wait to see Miss Barkley. When he tries to kiss her, she slaps him, then apologizes; however, Henry agrees that he was acting improperly. Later, she does kiss him, saying they must be nice to each other as they are going to live a strange life.
VI. Henry returns after two days of visiting military posts. He goes to the hospital to see Catherine again, and asks her to join him in the garden which is a private area. She is piqued that he did not tell her he would be gone and tells him she loves him although she knows he lies about loving her. For, they play a charade because of the the uncertainty of the war.
VII. The war is in progress as Lieutenant Henry visits some mountain posts, where there are wounded men. He notices that the common soldiers are not as well equipped as the officers; then, there are stragglers. One such man has a hernia and says that he has lost his truss, so Henry offers to drive him back, but the soldier says the officers will say he has lost his truss on purpose, or he will be operated on and returned to his regiment. Realizing that the man is war-weary, Henry promises to take him to another hospital if he stays on the road and pretends to hit his head. The soldier complies, but is picked up by another ambulance.
When Henry returns to his room, he is almost as disillusioned as the man with a hernia. He decides to write postcards to send home, saying he is well; as he does so, he fantasizes about Catherine and himself.
VIII. Having been informed that there is to be a battle on the river and he is to take four trucks up the mountains, Henry stops along the way in order to visit Catherine, who becomes concerned when he informs her of his mission. She gives him a St Anthony medal, telling him to wear it around his neck. When he tries to kiss her, she rebuffs him. Henry heads up through various mountain ranges.
IX. Henry tries to find food, knowing it will be some time before they have another opportunity. But, all he finds is some cheese which he transports to the men, who have cooked some pasta. Not long afterwards, Henry hears a deafening roar and feels as though he is floating away from himself. When he becomes more aware of reality, he hears screaming and discovers that Passini has had both his legs blown on; he dies before Henry can stop the bleeding. Then, Henry becomes aware of excruciating pain in his own leg; looking down he sees that his kneecap is on his lower leg. The medics arrive and notice too that he has a fractured skull. On the way to the hospital, the wounded man above him drips blood and dies before they arrive.
X. Having been taken to a field hospital, Henry has his dressings changed. Rinaldi comes to visit him and is solicitous about his wounds. Offering him cognac, Rinaldi assures Henry that he will be awarded a medal. As they drink Rinaldi informs Henry of an operation he performed in which he saved a man by removing part of his small intestines. Promising to bring Miss Barkley with him the next day, Rinaldi leaves, placing the cognac under Henry's bed.
XI. The priest visits Henry, bringing vermouth, English newspapers, and mosquito netting. Henry notices that the priest is depressed, and inquires what bothers him.
"You have the war disgust."
"No. But I hate the war."
The priest is both bothered by war and by the disrespect shown him. He talks to Henry about the difference between passion and real love:
"When you love, you wish to do things for. You wish to sacrifice for. You wish to serve."
XII. Plans are made to move Henry to the American hospital in Milan. Rinaldi visits him before he goes and tells him that the United States has declared war on Germany. Later, the patients are put on the train, and it is a long ride; Henry becomes sick after the drinks a bottle of grappa.
XIII. Henry arrives in Milan and is carried by two men because the stretcher will not fit in the elevator. Because his legs are bent as he is carried, Henry is in severe pain. Mrs. Walker, who is older, is confused by his arrival and keeps saying, "I do not know Italian." Henry has the men take some money from his pockets and his papers. He dismisses everyone and finally relaxes as the pain subsides. The next morning an efficient nurse name Miss Gage enters and cleans Henry's wounds, but when he asks about Miss Barkley, she does not know her. That night, Henry suffers from nightmares.
XIV. The next morning Miss Gage attends to Henry and tells him Miss Barkley will come to visit. When she enters, Henry narrates, "When I saw her, I was in love with her." He begs her to stay with him and they make love. Afterwards, Catherine tells him, "We'll have to be awfully careful" because she will be sent away if discovered to be carrying on an affair.
XV. A doctor examines Henry the next day and removes some steel splinters. He tells Henry that he cannot operate for six months, but Henry wants a second opinion. A Doctor Valentini, who is a major, examines Henry and promises to operate on him the next day.
XVI. While on night duty, Catherine spends the night with Henry. When he awakens, she is gone, but it is only to check that Miss Van Campen is asleep. She preps him for his operation and suggests to Henry that he not think of her before going under as the anesthesia makes people talk. She asks Henry if he has loved anyone else and he lies that he has not. Catherine promises to do anything he wants.
XVII. After waking from the operation, Henry is very ill. Then, he notices the sandbags hanging over the bed attached to his leg. Miss Ferguson attends him and tells him that Catherine is very tired from working the night shift and she needs a rest. When Henry calls for the nurse, Miss Gage reveals that she understands and is their friend. Nevertheless, Henry gets Catherine off the night shift. When Catherine returns, it is as though she has returned from a long trip.
XVIII. "We had a lovely time that summer," Henry narrates. They become friends with the waiter named George at the Gran Italia, and Frederic and Catherine feel as though they are married. When he suggests that they marry, Catherine says she will be sent away if they marry. When she comes to Henry, he undoes the pins in her hair and she makes a tent of it under which he hides, creating an image not unlike that of the first chapter.
XIX. Henry's legs begin to heal. One day he runs into some people that he has known before and they talk at a cafe. When he returns with a box of chocolates, he tells Catherine about the people he has met. But, Catherine asks him if he loves her; she tells him she is afraid of the rain because she has seen images of her and Henry dead in the rain.
XX. Catherine joins Henry as he meets his friends at a race track. They all bet on a horse that seems painted to disguise it; however, they win little. Catherine tells Henry she wants to be alone with him, so they go off to themselves and are content; then, they rejoin the others.
XXI. The fighting along the front goes stale; the Italians have lost 150,000 troops and other countries are being "cooked" as a British major tells Henry. Later, he receives a letter from his grandfather containing money. He also is notified that after his release from the hospital, he will receive three months leave and then return to the war. Catherine reveals that she is three months pregnant. Henry feels trapped, but does not show it.
XXII. The next evening it rains. The following day Henry is diagnosed with jaundice, and after Miss van Camden discovers his bottles, she accuses him of getting jaundice so he could have more time away from the front. Later, she confiscates his bottles, shows them to the doctor, and Henry's convalescent leave is canceled.
XXIII. On the day that Henry must return to the front, it is cold and misty. At first, they walk around, huddled in Catherine's cape; then, they go to a hotel where they talk of the future; Catherine tells Frederic not to worry about the baby because she will have him/her in a safe place.
XXIV. Henry and Catherine depart from the hotel and it is raining. When Henry finds the seat a soldier has saved for him on the train, a captain tells him that he cannot have a seat saved; so, Henry relinquishes it to the officer and finds a spot on the floor of an aisle.
XXV. Henry returns to Gorizia in the fall. He learns that the Italians have lost several trucks; more houses have suffered from bombings. Reunited with Rinaldi after a while, the surgeon tells Henry he should not have been returned to the front as he needs more therapy. When Rinaldi jokes about Catherine, Henry stops him abruptly. At dinner, the poor priest is yet teased, and Rinaldi becomes belligerent. After he departs, the priest confides in Henry that Rinaldi suspects that he has syphilis.
Frederic Henry returns to the front where the morale is low. The massive Italian retreat from the town of Caporetto when the German and Austrian forces began moving against them in October, 1917, is described. Henry picks up two Italian sergeants and drives further, but the ambulance becomes mired in the mud. When the sergeants refuse to help push, Henry shoots one; Bonello finishes him off by shooting him in the head. Then Bonello, Aymo, and Piani and Henry begin walking; unfortunately, Aymo is killed by an Italian sniper.
As they descend, Bonello turns himself in as a prisoner of war to the Germans. When they cross the bridge over Tagliamento River, the military police, known as the carabinieri, seize the Italian officers in order to shoot them for ordering the retreat. When Henry is seized, he breaks free, jumps into the river, floats down the river until he can hop a train for Milan.
After Henry arrives in Milan, he borrows civilian clothes from his friend Ralph Simmons, who goes by the name of Enrico DelCredo when he performs. Having learned that the nurses have moved to Stresa, so Frederic finds Catherine there with Helen Ferguson. Catherine and Frederic go to a hotel. The next day, Frederic plays billiards with Count Greffi, an older man whom Frederic had met previously while he stayed in Stresa.
One day during a rainstorm, Frederic is told that he will be shot as a deserter and lends him a boat so they can escape to Switzerland. After rowing for hours, Frederic's hands are so sore that he cannot continue, so Catherine rows. When they finally arrive, they are stopped by the authorities; however, all goes well because they have passports and money.
Frederic and Catherine go to Montreux and spend some halcyon days, but Catherine learns that she may have trouble delivering the baby because she is small. When Catherine goes into labor, they go to Lausanne. Catherine has a hard time; the doctor realizes that he will have to deliver the baby by cesarean section. But, it proves too late as the baby is dead. Then, Catherine begins to hemorrhage, and the doctor is unable to stop the bleeding. Frederic comes in to bid Catherine good-bye and she slips into unconsciousness and dies.