A Farewell to Arms

by: Ernest Hemingway

Chapters XXXVIII–XLI

Summary Chapters XXXVIII–XLI

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 XXXVIII–XLI

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.