The novel opens with a description of artillery-laden troops marching slowly through the rains of late summer and autumn. One of these men is the American Frederic Henry, an ambulance driver. Henry is currently in the Italian army, at the Italian front during World War I.
The main action of these first few chapters begins when Henry returns from winter leave in early spring. His roommate, Rinaldi, is enamored of a British nurse, Catherine Barkley, at a nearby British hospital. Rinaldi convinces Henry to visit the hospital with him and Henry finds himself attracted to Catherine. A few days later, Henry comes back to see Catherine and the two kiss.
The image of fertility is compared to soldiers carrying artillery in front of their bellies.
nature is poznacena vojnou… a prirode sa tiez odrazaju nasledky vojny nLater, a shell explodes in front of Henry and instead of reacting emotionally, he simply describes the smell of the explosion: one of "blasted clay and stone and freshly shattered flint."
The narrator of the story and the protagonist are two different people, as can be seen in the soliloquy on pages 13 and 14. The protagonist is Henry Frederick during the events narrated in the book, but the narrator is clearly an older Henry, one after the events.
The relationship between Henry and Catharine becomes more defined as Henry begins to pay her regular visits. However, the relationship is one devoid of love-to Henry, it is as if they are playing a game. Catherine recognizes this as well, and finally declares that it is a "rotten game we play," putting an end to the false lovemaking.
Meanwhile, the offensive is about to resume, and Fredrick Henry is dispatched to the front to drive the wounded back to hospitals. At the front, Henry and his fellow ambulance drivers sit in a dugout, eating pasta and waiting for the offensive to begin. One of the drivers, Passini, speaks out against the war, saying that "War is not won by victory. . . . One side must stop fighting. Why don't we stop fighting?" As they talk, shells shatter over their heads until finally a trench mortar shell blasts open the dugout. Passini's leg is blown off and he dies; both of Henry's legs are severely wounded.
." To Henry, the world is a just one, and that because he cares little about the war the war will ignore him.
Passini is the man who most vehemently protests the war, and it is no coincidence that he is the only character to so far die from it. Passini wishes to end the war by quitting it, noting that if the Italians stop fighting, the Austrians "will get tired and go away." Essentially, he has decided not to fight in the war anymore, and there is an implication that he dies because he has quit the struggle. Hemingway sets up the war as a metaphor for life: it is crude and indifferent to the beings who participate in it.
At a field hospital, Henry is visited first by Rinaldi, then by the priest. Rinaldi tells Henry that he will get a medal of bravery from the Italians, and jokes about developments. The priest, on the other hand, has more serious matters to talk about. He tries to explain to Henry how "There are people who would make war . . . [and] there are other people who would not make war," and how the latter are at the mercy of the former. The priest also tells Henry that love is a willingness to serve someone else, and that true happiness can be achieved through love.
After a few days at the field hospital, Henry is moved away from the front to an American hospital in Milan. Because of an excess of nurses at the front, Catherine is being sent there as well.
The juxtaposition of Rinaldi against the priest brings up many important contrasts. Rinaldi, in many ways, is a man of the flesh. He is concerned with the war and country, is consumed in eagerness for medals, and lusts for one-night stands. The priest is a man of the spirit. He does not see the patriotism or glory of the war, but instead its hopelessness. He does not find happiness in lust, but instead in selfless love. It is between these two ways of life that Henry must choose.
Frederic Henry is the first patient to be sent to the American hospital-even the doctor has not yet come. After a few days, though, the doctor arrives and immediately begins to remove shards of metal from Henry's legs. One piece of metal is particularly deep and surgery is required. Three surgeons arrive to discuss when the operation should be performed, but Henry refuses to accede to their recommendation to wait six months. Another surgeon, Dr. Valentini, is called in, who declares that Henry is fit to be operated upon the next morning. The operation is then carried out successfully.
Meanwhile, Catherine has arrived at the hospital and Henry professes his love for her. From then on, Catherine works the night shift and they have sex with each other almost every night.
Catherine recognizes the indifference of the universe, and takes joy in the fact that Henry and herself are both alive and out of immediate danger. "Feel our hearts beating," she says when she sees Henry again for the first time. But Henry does not see the coincidence-to him it is natural that he survive the accident, as he has no real part in the war: "I don't care about our hearts, I want you."
Catherine is, in many ways, the Hemingway code hero of this novel (see
want what you want. There isn't any me any more." She is giving selflessly to Henry, which, as the priest noted earlier, is true love and the way happiness is achieved.
It is summertime now, and, while he waits for his leg to heal, Henry spends most of his days with Catherine. One day, when coming back from treatment, Henry meets an officer in the Italian army named Ettore Moretti. In contrast to Henry, Ettore is obsessed with his scars, medals, and an impending promotion to captain.
At another time, Catherine and Henry decide to go to the horse races with some friends. Twice, with the aid of friends, they bet upon winning horses. However, both horses barely pay because there are already many bids on them. Finally the two detach themselves from the crowd and choose a random horse to bet upon. They lose, but feel better doing so.
As the end of summer approaches, Henry gets a letter from the army saying that when he is discharged he will be given three weeks leave before he must return. Catherine declares that she will find a way to leave the hospital at that time as well.
At the hospital, Henry has developed jaundice and must stay for another two weeks. During that time, Miss Van Campen discovers the empty bottles of alcohol in the armoire and is convinced that Henry drunk himself sick to avoid going back to the front. She reports him and he loses his leave.
On the night Henry must leave Milan for the front he and Catherine stay at a hotel together and affirm their love for each other. After dinner, Henry boards the crowded train.
When Catherine and Henry are walking around the streets of Milan, Henry notices another soldier and his girl seeking shelter by a cathedral. Henry notes that they are like himself and Catherine, a soldier and a girl. Catherine sees more than just this shallow resemblance, saying that "Nobody is like us," and later points out that "they have the cathedral [to stay at]." The implication is that unlike Henry and Catherine, this pair has religion. The only constant thing for Henry and Catherine is their love.
When Henry boards the train, it is raining. The rain's presence creates a feeling that the events ahead (and indeed the events which have just taken place) are out of Henry's and Catherine's control. The crowded train also serves as an objective correlative, creating an atmosphere of hopelessness-circumstance has once again gotten the better of Henry.
The war is not going well back at the front, and the men have lost all hope for an end to the war. Rinaldi is especially depressed, telling Henry that "I don't think; I operate." The only things Rinaldi finds interesting are alcohol and sex. The priest is also showing signs of weariness as well, though to a lesser degree. He has given up hoping for victory, but still believes the war will end soon now that all the officers are sick of it. Henry argues that because the Austrians are winning, the war will continue.
The day after his return, Henry is ordered to take over the ambulance cars in the mountains on the Bainsizza. The fighting there is particularly harsh, and after a few days of rain and war they are ordered to retreat. Up north the Germans and Austrians have broken through the line
As Lieutenant, Henry is in charge of a group of ambulance drivers in retreat. They are to convey the hospital equipment into Udine. However, the chaos of the retreat has taken over the road, and the ambulances are caught in a column of peasant cars and war vehicles, unable to move. Henry decides to turn off the main road, and the group boldly takes to the side roads. Behind them, they hear the Austrians bombing the main road.
Not far from Udine, the ambulances get stuck in the mud. Afraid that the Austrians will overtake them, two sergeants who had been riding along flee. Henry manages to shoot one of them. Continuing on foot, Henry and the three remaining drivers spot German troops all over the road and realize Udine has been taken. The group flees south, during which time one of the drivers is shot by the Italian rear-guard and another runs off to surrender himself.
Finally, Henry and Piani (the remaining member of the group) meet up with a column of retreating troops. There, Henry is spotted by the battle police, who believe him to be a German in an Italian uniform. The battle police are busy executing all officers they find separated from their troops, declaring that "It is because of treachery such as yours that we have lost the fruits of victory." Before he is executed, though, Henry manages to escape into a nearby river and follows the current downstream. When he reaches a shore hours later, he jumps onto a train and hides under the canvas.
Hemingway takes great pains to show the futility of escape from battle (clearly a symbol for life). A person can take the main road and get bombed, or take the side roads and get stuck in the mud. A soldier left behind can surrender to the enemy (Bonello) or get killed by his own paranoia-stricken people (Aymo). An officer can either be executed by his angry troops, or by the battle police in need of someone to blame defeat on. The chaos of the retreat is best exemplified by the death of Aymo, whose "killing came suddenly and unreasonably." There is no preparation and there is no reason for anything that happens.
At the end of Book 3, Henry takes his first step towards finding peace by rejecting any obligation to the world. The world has clearly dealt him an injustice, and he declares that once this happens "You were out if it now. You had no more obligation." He sets his mind away from contemplating the universe, and concentrates instead on Catherine.
Henry jumps off of the train in Milan, where he visits the Italian porter he befriended during his stay at the hospital. The porter tells him that Catherine left with Miss Ferguson to Stresa. After leaving the porter, Henry visits Simmons, an opera singer and old friend, who gives him some civilian clothes. Having changed, Henry boards the train for Stresa.
He meets up with Catherine at a hotel in Stresa, and they spend a few days together, though Henry must remain in the hotel for the most part to avoid being seen. One night, though, the hotel barman comes up to their room to warn Henry he's discovered that Italian officers are planning to arrest him the next morning. Henry and Catherine quickly pack and Emelio, the barman, lends them a boat they can take to Switzerland.
The pair head out into a windswept, drizzling night, and arrive tired at a customs town in Switzerland just before dawn. They are arrested after breakfast, but have the necessary passports and are sent to Locarno to get visas. Henry explains to the officials that they are there to "do the winter sport." The officials clearly do not believe the story, but allow them to stay because both Henry and Catherine have money which they will presumably spend
Away from the war, the meaningless values of "glory" and "honor" are absent and personal values of loyalty and friendship take their place. The porter, Simmons, and Emelio all reject Henry's offers of money, saying that they are helping him out of friendship. Other men, such as the proprietor of the wine-shop in Milan, are willing to help him simply because he has deserted the war. It is clear that most civilians are sick of the war, and are doing anything they can to help those who have deserted.
A tidy bit of symbolism concludes Book Four of the novel, as Henry and Catherine fight through the tossing sea in an open boat
The first half of Book Five finds Henry and Catherine in the mountains of Switzerland during the winter, enjoying the serenity of domestic life. The people in the surrounding villages are cheerful, and to Henry the raging war is distant. The only obstacle in their lives is Catherine's pregnancy, for there is a bit of trepidation over what to do with the child: "She won't come between us, will she?" asks Catherine.
Nevertheless, when spring comes the couple move into a nearby town where there is a hospital, and after a few weeks the pains begin to come. At the hospital, Catherine is in labor for hours. At first she rides the pains bravely, but soon demands gas. Still, though, the baby does not come. After a while, the gas ceases to work and the doctor declares that he must perform a Caesarian on Catherine.
The baby turns out to be dead, strangled by its cord. Catherine dies soon after the operation: "She had one hemorrhage after another. They couldn't stop it." Alone, Henry walks through the rain back to the hotel.
The serenity and simple happiness which Henry and Catherine find at the beginning of this section is more or less the eye of the storm. This kind of life is the kind Henry and Catherine both seek-one where there is nothing to worry about, and nothing that needs to be done. The pregnancy, however, promises to ruin this idyllic lifestyle by bringing responsibilities and worries into their lives.
At first she is excited about the pains and getting the job over with. She bears them bravely, as fits the Hemingway code hero, and manages to smile between the waves. However, nature soon gets the better of her and she begins to develop an addiction to the gas-the pains nature brings are too much
Henry, too, finds himself breaking from the strain. At the beginning, when he delivers her to the hospital, he does not attempt to deny the universe's hostility: "this was the price you paid for sleeping together. This was the end of the trap. This was what people got for loving each other."
In the final stages of the operation, Henry begins to cry out to God in desperation-crying out for a reason behind the universe, but of course his cries are unheard.
Catherine's death is the ultimate realization of Hemingway's philosophy. The death is a result of her pregnancy, and the pregnancy a result of love. Whether in war or in love, the universe kills indifferently
Hemingway's signature declarative, terse prose serves him well in this novel. It enables our narrator to be initially detached from life, and also serves to paint an uncompromising picture of the war. Additionally, it is used to produce a realistic narrative from Henry's point of view, shying away from elaborate schemes and descriptions. Because of it, nothing in the novel is romanticized. The love between Henry and Catherine is an elegant one, and in Hemingway's hands it becomes more of a function of existence rather than the primary focus of the novel.
The reader also will not fail to notice the humor which Hemingway manages to gleam despite the seriousness of his topic (the doubting reader should re-read Henry's dialogue with Miss Van Campen 144). The author is, indeed, finding something to laugh about in life, much as his characters are discovering meaning in an indifferent existence.
Finally, Hemingway is well-known for his use of objective correlatives and this novel is no exception. The vivid details, from crowded trains to gaudy hotel rooms, oftentimes serve no purpose other than to paint a mood for the reader.
Frederic Henry, an American ambulance driver and a lieutenant ("tenente") in the Italian army, is the narrator and protagonist of the novel. The focus of the novel revolves around his love with Catherine Barkley as well as his steady disillusionment with the war. Henry is characterized initially by a sort of detachment from life-though well-disciplined and friendly, he feels as if he has nothing to do with the war. These feelings of detachment are pushed away when Henry falls in love with Catherine and begins to realize the hostile nature of the world. In this way, Henry serves the function of a character who becomes initiated in Hemingway's philosophy of an indifferent universe and man's struggle against it.
Catherine Barkley is an English nurse serving at the Italian front. Due to the untimely death of a fiancé previous to the events of this book, Catherine has already been initiated into Hemingway's philosophy, and exemplifies the traits of the Hemingway code hero throughout the novel. She is characterized primarily by her disregard for social conventions as well as an unfaltering devotion to Henry.