A Farewell to Arms
Summary: Chapter XIV
In the morning, Miss Gage shows Henry the vermouth bottle that she found under his bed. He fears that she will get him into trouble, but, instead, she wonders why he did not ask her to join him for a drink. She reports that Miss Barkley has come to work at the hospital and that she does not like her. Henry assures her that she will. At Henry’s request, a barber arrives to shave him. The man treats Henry very rudely, and the porter later explains that he had mistaken Henry for an Austrian soldier and was close to cutting his throat. The misunderstanding causes the porter much amusement. After the barber and the porter leave, Catherine enters, and Henry realizes that he is in love with her. He pulls her onto the bed with him, and they make love for the first time.
Summary: Chapter XV
Henry meets a thin, little doctor who removes some of the shrapnel from his leg, but whose “fragile delicacy” is soon exhausted by the task. The doctor sends Henry for an X-ray. Later, three doctors arrive to consult on the case. They agree that Henry should wait six months before having an operation. Henry jokes that he would rather have them amputate the leg. As he cannot stand the thought of spending so long in bed, he asks for another opinion. Two hours later, Dr. Valentini arrives. Valentini is cheerful, energetic, and competent. He has a drink with Henry and agrees to perform the necessary operation in the morning.
Summary: Chapter XVI
“There, darling. Now you’re all clean inside and out. Tell me. How many people have you ever loved?”
Catherine spends the night in Henry’s room. They lie in bed together, watching the night through the windows and a searchlight sweep across the ceiling. Henry worries that they will be discovered, but Catherine assures him that everyone is asleep and that they are safe. In the morning, Henry fancies going to the park to have breakfast, while Catherine prepares him for his operation. He urges her to come back to bed. She refuses and tells him that he probably will not want her later that night when he returns from surgery, groggy with an anesthetic. She warns him that such drugs tend to make patients chatty and begs him not to brag about their affair. They discuss their affair, and Catherine asks him how many women he has slept with. He answers none, and though she knows he is lying, she is pleased.
Summary: Chapter XVII
After the operation, Henry grows very sick. As he recovers, three other patients come to the hospital—a boy from Georgia with malaria, a boy from New York with malaria and jaundice, and a boy who tried to unscrew the fuse cap from an explosive shell for a souvenir. Henry develops an appreciation for Helen Ferguson, who helps him pass notes to Catherine while she is on duty. He asks if she will come to their wedding, and Helen responds that she doubts that they will get married. Worried for her friend’s health, Helen convinces Henry that Catherine should have a few nights off. Henry speaks frankly to Miss Gage about getting Catherine some time to rest. Catherine returns to Henry after three days, and they enjoy a passionate reunion.
Analysis: Chapters XIV–XVII
Just as the officers’ early interactions with the priest establish the novel’s sympathies toward a strong, virile type of male behavior, a number of peripheral characters who appear in Book Two (Chapters XIII–XXIV) strengthen this sentiment. Hemingway describes the doctor who begins to diagnose Henry’s injuries as “a thin quiet little man who seemed disturbed by the war.” While Henry himself is disturbed, if not sickened, by the war, he maintains a competence and self-assurance that set him apart from men like the doctor, who needs to consult a team of his colleagues. This doctor’s character stands in sharp contrast to Dr. Valentini, a gregarious but competent surgeon who drinks hard and wears his sexual appetite on his sleeve. Valentini’s presence contributes to the novel’s celebration of a particular kind of manhood, a fraternal bond supported by a love of wine and women and by displays of reckless boldness, whether they happen on the battlefield, in the bedroom, or on the operating table.
Henry conforms to this type of masculine ideal by rushing boldly into a passionate affair with Catherine. When she appears in his room, he is struck by her beauty and declares the depth of his love for her in a single sentence: “Everything turned over inside of me.” Henry’s exchange with Catherine in Chapter XVI is incredibly powerful and suggestive. As they volley simple questions back and forth, asking whom the other has loved and made love to, the line between game-playing and true passion begins to blur. In between the lovers’ terse, deceptively simple lines of dialogue, Hemingway manages to point the way toward reserves of untapped feeling. Both Henry and Catherine feel more than they say or can say. Grief, fear, and a profound desire to be protected from a hostile world are among the forces that bring them together. But these confessions are beyond them; rather, they speak in strikingly nonromantic terms:
“You’ve such a lovely temperature.”
“You’ve got a lovely everything.”
“Oh no. You have the lovely temperature. I’m awfully proud of your temperature.”
Such conversations might strike the reader as a silly, indulgent imitation of the way lovers speak to each other. Hemingway, however, rescues these lines from saccharine sentimentality by establishing a complex psychological motivation for them. For Henry and Catherine, such foolishly romantic lines offer a respite from their war-torn world. The frivolity and banality of their dialogue gauge their desire to escape the horror of the war.
Interestingly, in addition to being innovative, Hemingway’s suggestive style of writing served a very practical purpose. The standards of decency in 1929 America would have barred a more explicit version of A Farewell to Arms from appearing in print. Hence, Hemingway hints at Henry and Catherine’s first sexual encounter, demanding that his audience read between the lines. Even though such scenes spared puritanical readers explicit details, the novel was plagued by charges of indecency. A public outcry in Boston, for example, led to the excision of such perceived profanities as “balls” from the novel.