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A Farewell to Arms

by Ernest Hemingway

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What is the relationship between love and pain in A Farewell to Arms?  

The relationship between love and pain in A Farewell to Arms is a very close and intimate one. It’s notable, for instance, that Catherine attempts to seduce Henry partly as a way of mitigating her pain over the loss of her fiancé. As for Henry, he sees love as an escape from the pain of war.

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Love and pain are shown to be different aspects of the same problem, which is the catastrophe of war. War causes the physical pain of Henry's wound, of course, and it is to care for the wounded that made Catherine become a nurse.

But more significantly, the war represents a kind of randomness that both brings the characters together while at the same time tearing them apart. Much of the horror Henry witnesses in the war is a reflection of this randomness. Henry's capture by the Germans and his subsequent escape and reunion with Catherine are examples of this randomness.

Similarly, Henry's love for Catherine is a kind of refuge for both of them from the war. Catherine is dealing with the pain of losing a fiancé in combat, and Henry is struggling with the emotional effects of the brutality he has witnessed. Through each other, they hope to escape the trauma of the war. Henry's decision to desert and look for Catherine is an expression of this, an assertion of his own personal agency in the face of mass hysteria. But Catherine's pregnancy, which leads to her death, is another of those random events which cause pain and cannot be avoided or mitigated by love. Ultimately, the war exacts a price from each of them.

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It is impossible to engage in any meaningful discussion of love in A Farewell in Arms without acknowledging its close, intimate relationship to pain. This is not, by any means, a conventional love story, and so it should come as no surprise that the path of true love not only doesn’t run smooth but is strewn with emotional pain.

This is only to be expected, given that the story takes place against a backdrop of savage human conflict, in which pain, both physical and emotional, is ever present. That being the case, love constitutes an escape route from the horrors of war and all its attendant suffering.

That certainly appears to be the case with Catherine and Henry’s relationship. Both of them are looking for an escape route from emotional pain and find it in the form of an intense relationship, no less intense for its being fleeting and temporary.

Catherine is in a state of mourning over the death of her fiancé. And her only way of dealing with her sorrows is to drown them by embarking on an affair with Henry. For his part, Henry’s love for Catherine provides him with temporary solace from the daily pain of war.

Yet the pain is never far away from their love. As it forms the backdrop to the relationship in the shape of a cataclysmic conflict, it always hangs over the two lovers like a dark storm cloud ready to burst open at any moment. The inability of Catherine and Henry to escape pain through love foreshadows the terrible tragedy that will eventually befall them.

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Love and pain are intimately entangled in this novel. Catherine and Frederic share a doomed love...

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that has been compared to that inRomeo and Juliet. Fate dooms their love, just as Romeo and Juliet were doomed.

The love Catherine and Frederic share is as pure as anything can be in this world. The two are separated but then offered a moment of hope when they find each other again. Their hope increases as they row to safety in neutral Switzerland, but it is then dashed as Catherine dies in childbirth and their infant son is strangled on the umbilical cord.

Both Catherine and Frederic experience pain, and both are stoic Hemingway heroes as they endure what life throws at them. Catherine's death is almost inevitable, because anything that is not broken must die—and Catherine suffers but is never broken.

Hemingway's spare style comes into full play in the love relationship between the two and in the pain Frederic silently bears at losing Catherine. He is the quintessential Hemingway hero, bearing his emotional blows without complaining.

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Ironically, Catherine Barkley and Frederic Henry fall in love and seek a separate peace from their pain, yet their love, that at first succors them, brings them pain in the end. Wounded both physically and spiritually, Henry finds himself in the hospital where English Nurse Barkley tends him. Henry's disillusionment with war becomes evident in Chapter XI as Rinaldi tells him he will earn a medal while Frederic protests, saying he did not do anything. He also tells the physician that he no longer believes in God. But, when Nurse Barkley comes into his room, Frederic narrates,

When I saw her i was in love with her.  Everything turned over inside of me.....God knows I had not wanted to fall in love with her.  I had not wanted to fall in love with any one. But God knows I had....

It is interesting that Frederic uses God's name here when he has claimed to no longer believe in God. But Catherine seems to restore his lost faith and soothe some of his spiritual pain. When they make love, Frederic makes a tent of Catherine's long hair in which he "hides." She is nourished by his love, as well, because with Frederic she becomes happy again after the pain of losing her fiancee to a cruel death.

After Henry defects from his military service, they decide to go to Switzerland where Catherine can give birth to their baby. However, it is in this neutral zone that the couple experience their greatest pain as Catherine dies in childbirth. The cruel irony of Catherine's death brings the greatest pain that Frederic has felt. And so, their love, once a haven from pain, indirectly kills Catherine and dispirits and deprives Frederic.

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