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THE STORY - CHAPTER SUMMARIES AND NOTES
Spring, the narrator, and signs of a nearing war all return to the small Italian town. The narrator goes back to the house in which he and the other officers had been barracked the previous fall and finds it unchanged. You meet his roommate, Rinaldi, who immediately begins pumping him about his leave, trying to begin a locker-room conversation about their respective sexual adventures. Rinaldi is spirited, bubbly, Italian; Henry is offhand, ironic. You get the feeling that he doesn't want to talk about his leave even with his good friend. And he seems to pay no attention to Rinaldi's repeated vows of love for a newly arrived British nurse, Catherine Barkley.
When a writer wants to make sure you remember a name or place, often he will skillfully work it in through repetition.
Look at the way Hemingway plays with Catherine Barkley's name here. In less than a page he has Rinaldi speaking the name four times, never in a way that sounds forced or phony, but guaranteeing that it will stay in your mind. At this point you can be pretty sure that Miss Barkley will appear again in the book.
That evening Frederic Henry tries to explain to his friend the priest why he didn't visit the priest's family in Abruzzi. "I myself felt as badly as he did and could not understand why I had not gone. It was what I had wanted to do.... I explained, winefully, how we did not do the things we wanted to do; we never did such things."
The drunken, stream-of-consciousness paragraph that follows gives you insight into Henry and into the way the war has affected him. He had wanted to go to a place "where it was clear cold and dry... and the peasants took off their hats and called you Lord and there was good hunting." But instead he had immersed himself in the nighttime, urban life of drinking and women. It's as if the world of Abruzzi, with its clear daylight and age-old values, has because of the war become an anachronism Henry can't believe in, as much as he would like to. Because he can't believe in that world he must lose himself in the exciting but uncaring world of the night. He realizes that he's confused-"I could not tell it; as I cannot tell it now"- but the priest appears to understand.
The chapter closes with more talk of the war. The officers trumpet the military hunger for battle: "Must attack. Shall attack!" The priest, more humane, admits that in war he "supposes" it's necessary to attack, but he's far from jingoistic about it.
The war is coming back to life with the spring. It's still only a nuisance, but it has moved closer, further disturbing the natural rhythms of the town. The dewy garden next door is now the site of an artillery battery.
Henry checks his ambulances and finds that while he was gone things went on pretty much as usual. He's mildly miffed. Maybe he's not as necessary in this war as he thought he'd be.
He goes to his room. Rinaldi is all shined up, ready to visit Miss Barkley, and he persuades Henry to go along with him. The two officers meet Catherine Barkley and another nurse, Helen Ferguson; Catherine and Henry pair off, Rinaldi talks to Helen.
In conversation Catherine lets you in on some of her past when she answers Henry's question about an officer's swagger stick she carries. She explains that it belonged to her fiance, who died last year in the Somme. Note the way Hemingway shows you some of the romantic notions held by many people at the start of World War I. Catherine volunteers as a nurse's aide, half hoping that her boyfriend will come to her hospital with a picturesque wound, looking like somebody out of an old painting, Instead-and she states it with brutal directness-"they blew him all to bits." The memory of the loss loosens her tongue and she tells Henry how she stayed chaste throughout her engagement but now wishes she hadn't.
The chapter closes with some banter about the rivalry between the English and the Scots that Rinaldi finds incomprehensible. Then Rinaldi acknowledges that he's lost Catherine to Henry, if indeed he ever had her to lose.
Today the Somme is just another French place name. To readers in 1929, the year this novel was published (and only ten years after the end of World War I), the Somme was a symbol not only of a horribly mismanaged battle but of an entire mismanaged and brutal war-a war that at its start both sides felt would be quick and painless, but that became an endless bloodbath. One statistic tells it all. In one day, July 1, 1916, the British attackers suffered 60,000 casualties, over 19,000 of them killed, while gaining little ground. The battle went on in that fashion for months.