A Farewell to Arms: Summary

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In the beginning Frederic Henry, a young American ambulance driver with the Italian army in World War I, meets a beautiful English nurse named Catherine Barkley near the front between Italy and Austria-Hungary. At first Henry wants to seduce her, but when he is wounded and sent to the American hospital where Catherine works, he actually begins to love her. After his convalescence in the hospital, Henry returns to the war front. During a retreat, the Italians start to fall apart. Henry shoots an engineer sergeant under his command for dereliction, and later in confusion is arrested by the battle police for the crime of not being Italian. Disgusted with the army and facing death at the hands of the battle police, Henry decides he has had enough of war; he dives into the river to escape.

After swimming to safety, Henry boards a train and reunites with Catherine--now pregnant with Henry's child--in Stresa. With the help of an Italian bartender, they escape to Switzerland, and attempt to put the war behind them forever. They spend a happy time together in Switzerland, and plan to marry after the baby is born. When Catherine goes into labor, however, things go terribly wrong. He attempts an unsuccessful Caesarian section, and Catherine dies in childbirth. To Henry, her dead body is like a statue; he walks back to his hotel without finding a way to say good-bye.

As the title suggests, A Farewell to Arms is in many ways an anti-war novel, but it is in no way like a call to end all war. Among the books' morals, violence is not necessarily wrong: Henry does not feel bad for shooting the engineer sergeant, and he tells Catherine he will kill the police if they come to arrest him. Furthermore, the novel glorifies discipline, competence, and masculinity, and shows war as a setting in which those qualities are constantly being shown.

A Farewell to Arms is against the extreme violence, the massive destruction, and the sheer senselessness of war;...
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