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

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.