Summary: Chapter XXXVII

Because of a storm, the waters are choppy and rough. Henry rows all night, until his hands are dull with pain. Catherine takes a short turn rowing, then Henry resumes. Hours later, having stayed safely out of sight of customs guards, the couple lands in Switzerland. They eat breakfast, and, as expected, the Swiss guards arrest them and take them to Locarno, where they receive provisional visas to remain in Switzerland. The guards argue comically over where the couple will find the best winter sports. Relieved but tired, Catherine and Henry go to a hotel and immediately fall asleep.

Analysis: Chapters XXXIII–XXXVII

Up to this point in the novel, reactions to the war have been voiced primarily by those involved in it: officers, soldiers, nurses, and surgeons. When Henry flees the front line, his travels expose him to several civilian characters whose respective attitudes toward the war echo those of military personnel. Neither Simmons, Emilio, nor Count Greffi support the war, with Simmons and Emilio going so far as to help Henry escape from duty. This rather one-sided presentation of the public’s perception of war advances the novel’s fundamental argument that war offers more opportunities for senseless loss and destruction than for glory and honor.

As if to underline this point, Hemingway skewers a more optimistic contemporary of his during Henry’s conversation with Count Greffi. Asked by Henry about literature written in wartime, the count names Henri Barbusse, author of the 1916 war novel Le Feu (Under Fire), and H. G. Wells, the English writer most famous for The Island of Doctor Moreau and The War of the Worlds. Wells also penned Mr. Britling Sees It Through, which the count mistakenly calls Mr. Britling Sees Through It. Hemingway, probably irritated by this book’s upbeat take on the war, deflates the optimism of the work’s title with Henry’s rejoinder, “No, he doesn’t.” Henry’s comment that he has read “nothing any good” makes clear that Hemingway dislikes Barbusse as well. Barbusse argues against the war in Le Feu, but the novel’s collective, everyman perspective clashes with Hemingway’s rugged individualism. (Barbusse’s later devotion to the Communist Party and Stalin didn’t win him many points with Hemingway either.) Beyond their disputatious nature, these literary inside jokes reinforce the sense of impending doom: the optimistic war novel winds up in the hands of wounded soldiers, and the grim reality of the war belies Wells’s optimistic depiction.

Once reunited with Catherine, Henry seems content with his decision to abandon the military. Several times, he assures himself that he is done with the war, but his “separate peace” is, perhaps, more a matter of wishful thinking than an actual state of mind. Henry admits that his thoughts are muddled when it comes to the war and his role in it. He tells Catherine that he will one day share his experience, if he can “get it straight in [his] head.” This psychological turmoil and Henry’s declaration that he feels like a criminal for leaving the front speak to a conflict deeper than Henry is willing to admit.

As Catherine and Henry prepare to journey to Switzerland, there is a gathering sense of doom. Although Hemingway prizes sharp-edged realism too highly to rely on traditional means of foreshadowing, he manages to forecast the coming tragedy in a number of ways. Helen Ferguson’s uncharacteristic outburst in the hotel points not so much to an extreme adherence to social mores or her fear of solitude as it does to an unspeakable sense that the world is a harmful place in which a love as true as Catherine and Henry’s cannot survive. Henry’s nighttime meditation—one of the most beautifully written and moving passages in the novel—echoes this sentiment. While his incredibly bleak observation that the world was designed to kill the good, the gentle, and the brave seems to come out of nowhere, it anticipates the workings of the cruel world that soon “break[s]” what he holds most dear.