A Farewell To Arms


Plot Summary

A Farewell to Arms is narrated by Lieutenant Frederic Henry, an American ambulance driver who has volunteered to serve in the Italian army. It is 1914, and America has not yet entered World War I. Henry begins by describing in detail the physical landscape of the war front where he is stationed, on the border between Italy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. As winter approaches, the action of the war is slowing down, and Henry applies for leave, during which he travels around Italy. Upon his return to duty in the spring, Henry goes with his friend and roommate, an Italian surgeon named Rinaldi, to meet two British nurses. He finds one of them, Catherine Barkley, very beautiful, and begins a flirtation with her. Catherine confides during their initial meeting that her fiancé of eight years was recently killed in the war. She is clearly still grieving his loss, but quickly presses Henry to say that he is in love with her. Henry does so, but discloses to the reader that he doesn’t really mean it. It is clear that both Henry and Catherine, for now, are attempting to escape the pain of the war by pretending a depth of feeling which they do not yet feel.

Soon after their courtship begins, Henry is badly wounded during an Austrian bombardment and taken to an American hospital in Milan. Henry’s worst injury, in one knee, requires major surgery. Although several American doctors advise a six-month wait before performing the surgery, Henry gets a second opinion from an Italian surgeon, Valentini, who agrees to operate right away. Henry thinks of Catherine often, and his feelings for her are clearly growing more sincere. By a fortunate coincidence, Catherine has been transferred to Milan, and she arranges to care for him during his recovery.

During these months, Catherine and Henry’s flirtation deepens into a very powerful love affair. They spend as much time as possible together, and agree that they are “married” in reality, if not technically so. When Henry’s leg is nearly healed and his physical therapy is complete, he is...

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