The novel’s narrator and protagonist. A young American ambulance driver in the Italian army during World War I, Henry meets his military duties with quiet stoicism. He displays courage in battle, but his selfless motivations undermine all sense of glory and heroism, abstract terms for which Henry has little patience. His life lacks real passion until he meets the beautiful Catherine Barkley.
An English nurse’s aide who falls in love with Henry. Catherine is exceptionally beautiful and possesses, perhaps, the most sensuously described hair in all of literature. When the novel opens, Catherine’s grief for her dead fiancé launches her headlong into a playful, though reckless, game of seduction. Her feelings for Henry soon intensify and become more complicated, however, and she eventually swears lifelong fidelity to him.
A surgeon in the Italian army. Mischievous, wry, and oversexed, Rinaldi is Henry’s closest friend. Although Rinaldi is a skilled doctor, his primary practice is seducing beautiful women. When Henry returns to Gorizia, Rinaldi tries to whip up a convivial atmosphere.
A kind, sweet, young man who provides spiritual guidance to the few soldiers interested in it. Often the butt of the officers’ jokes, the priest responds with good-natured understanding. Through Henry’s conversations with him regarding the war, the novel challenges abstract ideals like glory, honor, and sacredness.
A nurse’s aide who works at the American hospital and a dear friend of Catherine. Though Helen is friendly and accepting of Henry and Rinaldi’s visits to Catherine early in the novel, her hysterical outburst over Henry and Catherine’s “immoral” affair establishes her as an unhappy woman who is paranoid about her friend’s safety and anxious about her own loneliness.
An American nurse who helps Henry through his recovery at the hospital in Milan. At ease and accepting, Miss Gage becomes a friend to Henry, someone with whom he can share a drink and gossip.
Miss Van Campen
The superintendent of nurses at the American hospital in which Catherine works. Miss Van Campen is strict, cold, and unpleasant. She disapproves of Henry and remains on cool terms with him throughout his stay.
An Italian surgeon who comes to the American hospital to contradict the hospital’s opinion that Henry must wait six months before having an operation on his leg. In agreeing to perform surgery the next morning, Dr. Valentini displays the kind of self-assurance and confidence that Henry (and the novel) celebrates.
A spry, ninety-four-year-old nobleman. The count represents a more mature version of Henry’s character and Hemingway’s masculine ideal. He lives life to the fullest and thinks for himself. Though the count dismisses the label “wise,” Henry clearly values his thoughts and sees him as a sort of father figure.
An American soldier from San Francisco. Ettore, like Henry, fights for the Italian army. Unlike Henry, however, Ettore is an obnoxious braggart. Quick to instigate a fight or display the medals that he claims to have worked so hard to win, he believes in and pursues the glory and honor that Henry eschews.
A young Italian whom Henry meets at a decimated village. Gino’s patriotic belief that his fatherland is sacred and should be protected at all costs contrasts sharply to Henry’s attitude toward war.
An opera student of dubious talent. Simmons is the first person that Henry goes to see after fleeing from battle. Simmons proves to be a generous friend, giving Henry civilian clothes so that he can travel to Switzerland without drawing suspicion.
A bartender in the town of Stresa. Emilio proves a good friend to Henry and Catherine, helping them reunite, saving them from arrest, and ushering them off to safety.
An ambulance driver under Henry’s command. Bonello displays his ruthlessness when he brutally unloads a pistol round into the head of an uncooperative engineer whom Henry has already shot.