John Stubbs: Love and Role Playing in a Farewell to Arms

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John Stubbs' "Love and Role Playing in A Farewell to Arms"

John Stubbs' essay is an examination of the defense which he believes Henry and Catherine use to protect themselves from the discovery of their insignificance and "powerlessness...in a world indifferent to their well being..." He asserts that "role-playing" by the two main characters, and several others in the book, is a way to escape the realization of human mortality which is unveiled by war. Stubbs thinks that Hemingway utilized role-playing as a way to "explore the strengths and weaknesses of his two characters." Stubbs says that by placing Henry's ordered life in opposition to Catherine's topsy-turvy one, and then letting each one assume a role which will bring them closer together, Hemingway shows the pair's inability to accept "the hard, gratuitous quality of life."

Stubbs begins by showing other examples, notably in In Our Time and The Sun Also Rises, in which Hemingway's characters revert to role-playing in order to escape or retreat from their lives. The ability to create characters who play roles, he says, either to "maintain self-esteem" or to escape, is one Hemingway exploits extraordinarily well in A Farewell to Arms and therefore it "is his richest and most successful handling of human beings trying to come to terms with their vulnerability."

As far as Stubbs is concerned, Hemingway is quite blatant in letting us know that role-playing is what is occurring. He tells that the role-playing begins during Henry and Catherine's third encounter, when Catherine directly dictates what is spoken by Henry. After this meeting the two become increasingly comfortable with their roles and easily adopt them whenever the other is nearby. This is apparent also in that they can only successfully play their roles when they are in private and any disturbance causes the "game" to be disrupted. The intrusion of the outside world in any form makes their role-playing impossible, as evidenced at the race...
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