A Farewell To Arms


Catherine Barkley

Charges of sexism and one-dimensionality are often leveled at Hemingway’s female characters, and Catherine Barkley’s character is certainly no exception. To the feminist reader, Catherine’s domesticity, amenability and intense desire to please Henry are perhaps her most striking features. She worries about Henry becoming bored with her, and repeatedly talks about changing her hairstyle to maintain his interest; she worries about gaining weight from the pregnancy and thinks she will be more attractive when the weight has come off; she actually apologizes to Henry for being in pain during her difficult labor. Even when she herself is the one suffering, she worries about turning him off or being an inconvenience. In these instances, Catherine does indeed seem more like an expression of male fantasy than a multi-dimensional character in her own right.

However, Catherine is certainly not without her strengths. In stoicism and bravery, she matches if not exceeds Henry. Notice the grace and humor with which she handles their midnight flight from Italy, never succumbing to fear or even irritability. Even at the beginning of the novel, when Henry is tempted to dismiss her as “a little crazy” because of how quickly she brings up being in love with him, it becomes obvious that Catherine is fully aware of the game which they are playing. “You don’t have to pretend to love me… You see I’m not mad,” she says, demonstrating that she is actually more perceptive than Henry is. At times, Henry seems like an idealistic child next to her, as when she bluntly explains to him that if they actually get married, they will not be able to be together. She has an admirable personal strength and firmness of conviction which carries her through each challenging situation with fortitude. She even handles her own death with courage, rejecting the presence of a priest and asking simply that Henry stay with her. In contrast, Henry—who has previously stated that he does not believe in God—desperately prays for Catherine’s life....

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