Summary: Chapter 38

By fall, Henry and Catherine have moved to a wooden house on a mountain outside the village of Montreux. They pass a splendid life together, enjoying the company of Mr. Guttingen and his wife, who live downstairs, and taking frequent walks into the peaceful nearby villages. One day, after Catherine has her hair done in town, the couple goes out for a beer, which Catherine believes will help keep the baby small. Catherine has been increasingly worried about the baby’s size, since the doctor has warned her that she has a narrow pelvis. Again, Henry and Catherine discuss marriage. Catherine agrees to marry someday because it will make the child “legitimate,” but she prefers to talk about the sights that she hopes to see, such as Niagara Falls and the Golden Gate Bridge, when the marriage makes her an American.

Three days before Christmas, snow falls. Catherine asks Henry if he feels restless. He says no, though he does wonder about Rinaldi, the priest, and the men on the front. Catherine, suspecting that Henry might be restless, suggests that he change something to reinvigorate his life. He agrees to grow a beard. Catherine suggests that she cut her hair to make her look more like Henry, but Henry doesn’t like this idea. When she proposes that they try to fall asleep together at the same time, Henry is unable to and lies awake looking at Catherine and thinking for a long time.

Summary: Chapter 39

By mid-January, Henry’s beard has come in fully. While out on a walk, he and Catherine stop at a dark, smoky inn. They relish their isolation and wonder if things will be spoiled when the “little brat” comes. Catherine says that she will cut her hair when she is thin again after the baby is born so that she can be “exciting” and Henry can fall in love with her all over again. He tells her that he loves her enough now and asks, “What do you want to do? Ruin me?”

Summary: Chapter 40

In March, the couple moves to the town of Lausanne to be nearer to the hospital. They stay in a hotel there for three weeks. Catherine buys baby clothes, Henry exercises in the gym, and both feel that the baby will come soon and that therefore they should not lose any time together.

Summary: Chapter 41

Around three o’clock one morning, Catherine goes into labor. Henry takes her to the hospital, where she is given a nightgown and a room. She encourages Henry to go out for breakfast, which he does. When he returns to the hospital, he finds that Catherine has been taken to the delivery room. He goes in to see her; the doctor stands by as Catherine inhales an anesthetic gas to get her through the painful contractions. Later that afternoon, when Henry returns from lunch, Catherine has become intoxicated from the gas and has made little progress in her labor. The doctor tells Henry that the best solution would be a Caesarean operation. Catherine suffers unbearable pain and pleads for more gas. Finally, they wheel her out on a stretcher to perform the operation. Henry watches the rain outside.

The doctor soon comes out with a baby boy, for whom Henry, strangely, has no feelings. Henry sees the doctor fussing over the child, but he rushes off to see Catherine without speaking to him. When Catherine asks about their son, Henry tells her that he is fine. The nurse gives him a quizzical look; ushering him outside, the nurse explains that the umbilical cord had strangled the child prior to birth.

Henry goes out for dinner. When he returns, the nurse tells him that Catherine is hemorrhaging. He is terrified that she will die. When he is finally allowed to see her, she tells him that she will die and asks him not to say the things that he once said to her to other girls. He stays with her until she dies. Once she is dead, he attempts to say goodbye but cannot find the sense in doing so. He leaves the hospital and walks back to his hotel in the rain.

Analysis: Chapters 38–41

Henry and Catherine’s simple domestic rituals in the first half of this section illustrate their happiness together. Hemingway efficiently marks their distance from the outside world by juxtaposing this bliss, in Chapter XL, with news of the German attack: “It was March, 1918, and the German offensive had started in France. I drank whiskey and soda while Catherine unpacked and moved around the room.” A subtle nervousness, however, hangs over the tranquility. Henry, as is typical for Hemingway’s heroes, craves adventure and finds himself becoming restless with what has essentially become married life. When he shadowboxes at the gym, he can’t bear to look at himself long in the mirror because a boxer with a beard looks strange to him. This clash of new and old identities explodes later when Henry feels nothing for his son. As much as Henry has desired his isolation from the world and solitude with Catherine, their exclusive union poses for him a new problem of maintaining a modicum of independence. While Catherine is happy to have their lives “all mixed up,” Henry confesses, “I haven’t any life at all any more.” As the ending of the novel shows, Henry is still very much in love with Catherine. But when Catherine wants to make love, Henry wants to play chess. Love, the last ideal left standing in the novel, proves to be problematic, like glory and honor.

Throughout this last book, Hemingway foreshadows Catherine’s death. Her attempt to keep the baby small by drinking beer anticipates the painful labor through which she will suffer, while her claim that the world has “broken” her echoes the passage in which Henry fears the death of the good and the gentle. These subtleties create an expectation that casts a pall on the domestic satisfaction and relative optimism that Catherine and Henry feel. When Catherine’s death comes, Henry reports it in the baldest, most unadorned terms: “It seems she had one hemorrhage after another. They couldn’t stop it. I went into the room and stayed with Catherine until she died.” Although Hemingway shows only the tip of the iceberg, the reader feels the immeasurable grief that extends below the surface. Here, in its ability to evoke so much by using so little, is the power of Hemingway’s writing.

Though the novel ends in tragedy, Catherine’s death fails to initiate an epiphany in Henry. Her death is not the catalyst for a great change or revelation. The realization that does come only confirms the novel’s largest thematic focus: both love and war lead to losses for which there is no compensation. The storm with which the novel ends reminds the reader of Catherine’s fear of rain. In Chapter XIX, Catherine speaks about an unidentifiable malevolence in the world. The rain that now falls on Henry as he leaves the hospital signals the same destructive forces—forces that render one powerless, speechless, and hopeless. By ending on this note, the novel seems to suggest that any epiphany Henry might have had, any thoughts that might have given him a more promising perspective, or any words that might have lent him solace would be false or impossible. They belong to the realm of Rinaldi’s prostitutes, of Henry’s drinking, of Catherine’s lust for love: each of these provides much needed shelter from the world’s inhospitable forces. But, as the closing passage of A Farewell to Arms makes heartbreakingly clear, such shelter is always temporary.