5. Poor, poor dear Cat. And this was the price you paid for sleeping together. This was the end of the trap. This was what people got for loving each other. Thank God for gas, anyway. What must it have been like before there were anesthetics?
Several times in the novel, as in this moment from the final chapter when Henry watches Catherine suffer through the agony of delivering their child, Henry performs the narrative equivalent of shaking his fist at the heavens and cursing the universe. This passage is significant for two reasons: first, it can be used to explain Hemingway’s sometimes problematic treatment of the relationships between men and women. Hemingway tends to depict women as cold and domineering or as overly sweet and submissive. Some readers complain that Catherine falls into the second category. Henry’s profound sense of loss and impotence—never welcomed among Hemingway’s male characters—suggests that one of the motivations behind these somewhat stereotypical representations might be a belief that women possess an inherent “unmanly” helplessness.
The second facet of this quotation’s significance lies in Henry’s declaration, “Thank God for gas, anyway.” Throughout the novel, characters have sought whatever means possible to shield themselves from the pain of the world. Rinaldi finds comfort in sex, the priest in God, Catherine and Henry in love, and almost everybody in alcohol. Each of these things acts as a form of anesthetic, a temporary dulling of a pain that, in the end, cannot be conquered.