What are the roles of intoxicant drinks in A Farewell to Arms?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Italians have long had an expression, Amare, vivere e ridere, "Love, live, and laugh," that conveys their attitude toward life.  In A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway's novel set in Italy, the male characters do a great deal of drinking. For Hemingway's men drinking represents loving, living, and laughing; that is, tasting of life. Nevertheless, it does not befit the Hemingway hero to drink too much, for then he loses control.

That drinking represents deriving the most from life that is left to him is exemplified in Frederic Henry's drinking with his friends during a battle. The alcohol acts to remove some of the edginess from the men, acting to mitigate their fear. In Chapter II, Frederic Henry drinks to dull some of his feelings:

I had drunk much wine and afterward coffee and Strega, and I explained, winefully, how we did not do the things we wanted to do; we never did such things.

Wine is also a consolation for disappointments and depravations,

Later, below in the town I watched the snow falling, looking out of the window of the bawdy house, the house for officers where I sat with a friend with two glasses drinking a bottle of Asti.

In Chapter XXIII, the night before Frederic Henry is to go to the front, he and Catherine take a room. At first, it is awkward, but after their meal, Henry narrates that they begin to feel that it is their home, just as the hospital room was their home after having drunk two bottles of wine. Henry says,

"Wine is a grand thing. It makes you forget all the bad." 

It is not long after this that Henry deserts and runs from what he feels is the trap of war, a trap that wine, although it has the ability to dull feeling, does not offer escape.