Why is Frederic Henry in the Italian Army in the novel A Farewell to Arms by Hemingway?

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Chapter 4, Frederic Henry, an American, explains to Miss Barkley shortly after having met her that he is not really in the Italian army, but in the ambulance corps. When she presses him about why he joined the ambulance corps, he says, "There isn’t always an explanation for everything” (page 15). Later, in Chapter 5, when Miss Barkley presses him again, he explains that he was in Italy when the war broke out and he spoke Italian. His Italian is good, and it is also clear that Frederic Henry likes the Italian people and culture. Rinaldi says to him, "You are really an Italian...You only pretend to be an American" (page 57). Frederic Henry has close friends in the Italian army and clearly cares what happens to the country. In addition, at the point of the war when the book takes place, the Americans have declared war on Germany but not on Austria. Therefore, the Americans are just coming to where Frederic Henry is fighting and is wounded, and he could not have fought with the Americans in Italy at the time when he joined the Italian ambulance corps. 

Kristen Lentz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The protagonist of Farewell to Arms, Frederic Henry, serves in the Italian army as a lieutenant and ambulance driver because the United States has not officially joined World War I yet.  World War I begins in in 1914, but the United States does not declare war on the Central Powers until 1917.

Despite the U.S.'s reservations about becoming involved with an overseas conflict, many young men across the country felt a moral or philosophical calling to become involved or join the Allied armies to defeat the Kaiser.  Many other young men travelled to Europe and enlisted with the Allies to seek adventure.  Frederic Henry enlisted with the Italian army for a combination of these reasons.

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A Farewell to Arms

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