A Farewell to Arms

by: Ernest Hemingway

The Priest

“Priest not with girls,” went on the captain. “Priest never with girls,” he explained to me. He took my glass and filled it, looking at my eyes all the time, but not losing sight of the priest. “Priest every night five against one.” Every one at the table laughed. “You understand? Priest every night five against one.” He made a gesture and laughed heartily. The priest accepted it as a joke.

Frederic dines with his fellow officers, including a young priest. At the table, a captain teases the priest using “pidgin Italian” to make sure that Frederic understands. As the captain explains, since the priest is the only believer among the group, he must tolerate or ignore being teased. The priest is presumably present to serve soldiers’ spiritual needs, but the officers disparage religion. Frederic respects the priest’s sincerity as well as his tolerance for teasing.

That night at the mess I sat next to the priest and he was disappointed and suddenly hurt that I had not gone to the Abruzzi. He had written to his father that I was coming and they had made preparations. I myself felt as badly as he did and could not understand why I had not gone. It was what I had wanted to do and I tried to explain how one thing had led to another and finally he saw it and understood that I had really wanted to go and it was almost all right.

When Frederic took leave, all of his fellow officers encouraged him to visit their homes. The priest assumed that Frederic would definitely visit Abruzzi. The priest knows that he and Frederic genuinely share interests, so he recognizes Frederic’s regret as sincere. Frederic spares him the fact that Frederic’s desire for clean, cold, and outdoor activities had lost out to “the smoke of cafés” and “nights in bed, drunk.” The two men now only share some interests.

“To your better health.” Afterward he held the glass in his hand and we looked at one another. Sometimes we talked and were good friends but to-night it was difficult. . . . “I am tired but I have no right to be. . . . I feel very low. . . . I hate the war. . . . You do not mind it. You do not see it. You must forgive me. I know you are wounded. . . . Still even wounded you do not see it. I can tell. I do not see it either myself but I feel it a little.”

Here, the priest speaks while visiting Frederic in the hospital. The priest explains that he has come to hate the war, which he understands through the experiences of the men to whom he ministers. The priest knows that Frederic feels differently about the war. Despite their differences on both war and religion, however, Frederic and the priest share an outsider status, and the priest knows Frederic respects him. Frederic thus is the only soldier with whom the priest can share his feelings.

“If it is possible I will return to the Abruzzi.” His brown face was suddenly very happy. . . . “I would be too happy. If I could live there and love God and serve Him . . . Yes and be respected. Why not? . . . It does not matter. But there in my country it is understood that a man may love God. It is not a dirty joke.”

Frederic asks the priest what he would like to do if the war ever ends, and here he responds that he wants to return to his home region, the Abruzzi, which he loves. Frederic suggests that part of what the priest likes about home, in contrast to his experience in the army, is that priests are respected there. The priest agrees, but then he makes clear that the atheist officers’ teasing offends him because of the disrespect shown to God, not to himself.

“I think it will be over soon. I don’t know why but I feel it. . . . You know how your major is? Gentle? Many people are like that now. . . . It has been a terrible summer,” said the priest. He was surer of himself now than when I had gone away. . . . “Many people have realized the war this summer. Officers whom I thought could never realize it realize it now. . . . I do not know when but I do not think it can go on much longer.”

After the priest remarks on how brutal the previous season’s fighting was, he reveals his belief that the war will end soon. He believes that a change of heart within the leadership will help end the fighting. Frederic points out that this feeling only comes to the losers, while the winners will be eager to fight on. The priest accurately understands the feelings of the men around him, but not being a fighter himself, he could not imagine the psychology of the other army.