Henry gets off the train when it enters Milan. He goes to a wine shop and has a cup of coffee. The proprietor offers to help him, but Henry assures the man that he is in no trouble. After they share a glass of wine, Henry goes to the hospital, where he learns from the porter that Catherine has left for Stresa. He goes to visit Ralph Simmons, one of the opera singers that he encounters earlier, and asks about the procedures for traveling to Switzerland. Simmons, offering whatever help he can, gives Henry a suit of civilian clothes and sends him off to Stresa with best wishes.
Henry takes the train to Stresa. He feels odd in his new clothes, noticing the scornful looks that he receives as a young civilian. Still, he claims that such looks do not bother him, for he has made a “separate peace” with the war. The train arrives in Stresa, and Henry heads for a hotel called the Isles Borromées. He takes a nice room and tells the concierge that he is expecting his wife. In the bar, Emilio, the bartender, reports that he has seen two English nurses staying at a small hotel near the train station. Henry eats but does not answer Emilio’s questions about the war, which, he reflects, is over for him.
Catherine and Helen Ferguson are having supper when Henry arrives at their hotel. While Catherine is overjoyed, Helen becomes angry and berates Henry for making such a mess of her friend’s life. Neither Henry nor Catherine yields to Helen’s stern moralizing, and soon Helen begins to cry. Henry describes the night spent with Catherine: he has returned to a state of bliss, though his thoughts are darkened by the knowledge that the “world breaks everyone” and that good people die “impartially.”
In the morning, Henry refuses the newspaper, and Catherine asks if his experience was so bad that he cannot bear to read about it. He promises to tell her about it someday if he ever gets “it straight in [his] head.” He admits to feeling like a criminal for abandoning the army, but Catherine jokingly assures him that he is no criminal: after all, she says, it was only the Italian army. They agree that taking off for Switzerland would be lovely, and return to bed.
Later that morning, Catherine goes to see Helen, and Henry goes fishing with Emilio. Emilio offers to lend Henry his boat at any time. Henry and Catherine eat lunch with Helen Ferguson. Count Greffi, a ninety-four-year-old nobleman whom Henry befriends on an earlier trip to Stresa, is also at the hotel with his niece. That evening, Henry plays billiards with the count. They talk about how the count mistakenly thought religious devotion would come with age and about whether Italy will win the war.
Later that night, Emilio wakes Henry to inform him that the military police plan to arrest Henry in the morning. He suggests that Henry and Catherine row to Switzerland. Henry wakes Catherine, and they pack and head down to the dock. Emilio stocks them up with brandy and sandwiches and lets them take the boat. He takes fifty lire for the provisions and tells Henry to send him five hundred francs for the boat after he is established in Switzerland.
Because of a storm, the waters are choppy and rough. Henry rows all night, until his hands are dull with pain. Catherine takes a short turn rowing, then Henry resumes. Hours later, having stayed safely out of sight of customs guards, the couple lands in Switzerland. They eat breakfast, and, as expected, the Swiss guards arrest them and take them to Locarno, where they receive provisional visas to remain in Switzerland. The guards argue comically over where the couple will find the best winter sports. Relieved but tired, Catherine and Henry go to a hotel and immediately fall asleep.
Up to this point in the novel, reactions to the war have been voiced primarily by those involved in it: officers, soldiers, nurses, and surgeons. When Henry flees the front line, his travels expose him to several civilian characters whose respective attitudes toward the war echo those of military personnel. Neither Simmons, Emilio, nor Count Greffi support the war, with Simmons and Emilio going so far as to help Henry escape from duty. This rather one-sided presentation of the public’s perception of war advances the novel’s fundamental argument that war offers more opportunities for senseless loss and destruction than for glory and honor.
As if to underline this point, Hemingway skewers a more optimistic contemporary of his during Henry’s conversation with Count Greffi. Asked by Henry about literature written in wartime, the count names Henri Barbusse, author of the 1916 war novel Le Feu (Under Fire), and H. G. Wells, the English writer most famous for The Island of Doctor Moreau and The War of the Worlds. Wells also penned Mr. Britling Sees It Through, which the count mistakenly calls Mr. Britling Sees Through It. Hemingway, probably irritated by this book’s upbeat take on the war, deflates the optimism of the work’s title with Henry’s rejoinder, “No, he doesn’t.” Henry’s comment that he has read “nothing any good” makes clear that Hemingway dislikes Barbusse as well. Barbusse argues against the war in Le Feu, but the novel’s collective, everyman perspective clashes with Hemingway’s rugged individualism. (Barbusse’s later devotion to the Communist Party and Stalin didn’t win him many points with Hemingway either.) Beyond their disputatious nature, these literary inside jokes reinforce the sense of impending doom: the optimistic war novel winds up in the hands of wounded soldiers, and the grim reality of the war belies Wells’s optimistic depiction.
Once reunited with Catherine, Henry seems content with his decision to abandon the military. Several times, he assures himself that he is done with the war, but his “separate peace” is, perhaps, more a matter of wishful thinking than an actual state of mind. Henry admits that his thoughts are muddled when it comes to the war and his role in it. He tells Catherine that he will one day share his experience, if he can “get it straight in [his] head.” This psychological turmoil and Henry’s declaration that he feels like a criminal for leaving the front speak to a conflict deeper than Henry is willing to admit.
As Catherine and Henry prepare to journey to Switzerland, there is a gathering sense of doom. Although Hemingway prizes sharp-edged realism too highly to rely on traditional means of foreshadowing, he manages to forecast the coming tragedy in a number of ways. Helen Ferguson’s uncharacteristic outburst in the hotel points not so much to an extreme adherence to social mores or her fear of solitude as it does to an unspeakable sense that the world is a harmful place in which a love as true as Catherine and Henry’s cannot survive. Henry’s nighttime meditation—one of the most beautifully written and moving passages in the novel—echoes this sentiment. While his incredibly bleak observation that the world was designed to kill the good, the gentle, and the brave seems to come out of nowhere, it anticipates the workings of the cruel world that soon “break[s]” what he holds most dear.
The ending was good, but depressing.
8 out of 29 people found this helpful
I personally thought it was okay.
It only got interesting for me towards the end.
Hemingway is my absolute favorite author and A Farewell to Arms is absolutely stunning. A lot of people have trouble reading Hemingway, he leaves a lot up for interpretation and discussion but this is just part of his genius. As for symbols, this SparkNotes page is lacking severely. Some big ones are touched on but read carefully and read it a few times keeping in mind that each word has a purpose. Scene descriptions are not put in there for entertainment, the weather, the trees, the mountains, each description keys in to another aspect of t... Read more→
67 out of 72 people found this helpful