One of the primary themes of the novel centers on the notion of a "separate peace." Lieutenant Frederic Henry, an American in the Italian Army, is severely wounded, recovers, returns to the war and, finally, after the powerfully rendered retreat from Caporetto, he deserts from the army in an effort to resolve and to escape the contradictions and chaos of a war-maddened world. In a kind of baptismal rite, he plunges into the Tagliamento River: "Anger was washed away in the river along with any obligation." His immersion in the river and flight from the war seal and signify his rebirth in love.
To be redeemed by love, of course, does not imply in Hemingway's tragic vision anything like a "happy ending." As Carlos Baker has succinctly stated the themes of this novel, Frederic and Catherine are "star-crossed," Catherine is "biologically double-crossed, Europe is war-crossed, and life is death-crossed." By the time Catherine dies in childbirth at the end of the novel, Frederic has not only been chastened by tragedy, but he has learned the meaning of commitment and love, and he is a better man for it.
The novel's intricately interwoven themes are perhaps distilled in this famous passage:
If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It...
(The entire section is 428 words.)