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Free Barron's Booknotes-A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
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By the time Book II begins, Hemingway has his novel well under way. You've met the major characters and learned the setting and some of the themes-at least the beginnings of their presentations. Henry's problems are stated: his gropings toward the meaning of war, his blundering in the direction of love. Of course, you don't know any outcomes yet. They must wait. Book I has completed only the introduction; Book II will present the complication.


Henry arrives at the American hospital to find that it's not ready for him. He's met by an elderly woman, a Mrs. Walker, who's flustered at his arrival. Henry arranges tips for the porters who helped him and sets himself up in a room, despite Mrs. Walker's inefficiency. He sleeps, and when he awakes he's greeted by a nurse who's remarkably efficient; she washes him, takes his temperature, and makes his bed with him in it. The contrast is to be noted. Again you have the admired character, Miss Gage, who does things well, in contrast to the pitied, even scorned character, who doesn't. Miss Gage is right up there with the British ambulance driver in Book I.

Henry asks, once directly and twice indirectly, whether Catherine Barkley is at the hospital or whether she'll be coming.

Another item of some meaning is the instant animosity between Henry and the head nurse, Miss Van Campen. He says she's "snooty," she says he's "rude." They're both right. She is officious, a legalist who sticks blindly to the rules whether or not they make sense. He gives her a sarcastic comment about the absence of a doctor in the hospital.

One bone of contention between them is Henry's request for wine with meals. She refuses. He pays the porter to sneak some bottles in for him, a situation that can lead only to trouble. It does; read on.

As the chapter closes Henry tells you that he "woke sweating and scared and then went back to sleep trying to stay outside of my dream." Here is an indication that although he may recover physically from his wounding, he may never erase its memory from his mind. Note, though, that whenever he has an audience, he comports himself as a fine young man-brave, selfless, and modest. His anxieties surface when he's alone at night.


This is a short, important chapter. Henry wakes to Miss Gage, who has discovered his wine bottles but sympathizes with him. She tells him, perhaps a little jealously, that Catherine's there. She washes him and arranges for a barber to shave him.

Then comes a scene of some comedy, for the barber thinks Henry is not an American but a captured Austrian, an enemy. His flashing razor makes Henry nervous. It's a bit of comic relief that provides a break from the steady diet of heavy subject matter: life and death, right and wrong, lust and love.

The high point of the chapter is the entrance of Catherine Barkley immediately after the scene with the barber. It's a rapturous moment. She's fresh and young and beautiful, and Henry realizes the instant he sees her that he's in love. They make love, hurriedly, there in the hospital room.

Henry admits he had not wanted to fall in love with anyone, but it has happened anyway. Here you should probably be thinking of Rinaldi, who also was bent on avoiding love and is succeeding, if such avoidance is success.

The chapter ends with the good news that the doctor's coming.


A favorite device of dramatists, particularly Shakespeare, is the use of foil characters. A foil is a character who resembles the main character in all respects except one-the one trait that the writer wants to highlight. Rinaldi and Henry are both young, both officers, both in the medical service. But Henry has fallen in love; Rinaldi still patronizes the Villa Rossa. How will this difference affect them?


The good news of the doctor's arrival turns bad. He gets to the hospital, but he and the two physicians with him prove to be additional examples of Hemingway's hated incompetents. They stall, they test, they mix up X rays, and at last they decide that Henry must wait six months before surgery to remove the shrapnel from his knee.

Henry's furious. He's noticed that the surgeon is only a first captain. If he were any good, Henry reasons, he'd be at least a major. Henry asks the house doctor for another surgeon, hinting that he wants to get well so that he can return to the front. He's told that a Dr. Valentini will examine him.

Valentini bursts into the room like a whirlwind. He examines Henry, praises Catherine and jokes about taking her to dinner, drinks a cognac, and tells Henry he'll be operated on the next morning. Valentini joins the club of the skilled, the able, along with Miss Gage and the British ambulance driver.

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Free Barron's Booknotes-A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

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