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A Farewell to Arms
Ernest Hemingway



The cold autumn rains begin, and Henry feels ill. The house doctor diagnoses jaundice. Henry is sick with it for two weeks, during which time he has a run-in with Miss Van Campen over his drinking. She accuses him of purposely giving himself jaundice by drinking so that he won't have to go back to the front. He, nastily, debates her on the issue, but she puts him on report and he loses his leave. Authority prevails. CHAPTER 23

This chapter takes place on the night Henry is to return to the front. He makes his good-byes at the hospital, arranges for a seat on the train, and meets Catherine in town. They walk through the misty Milan streets.

In a series of sharply etched images and incidents, Hemingway creates an atmosphere that varies from pathetic to poignant to ominous.

Near the great Milan cathedral they see a soldier and his girl huddled together under the man's rain cape. Henry says, "They're like us." They are, literally, but note Catherine's answer: "Nobody is like us." Nobody is as much in love? Nobody has their problems? Nobody feels as sad at parting? Nobody will suffer the same fate? The fog and drizzle make her words bleak.

They leave the cathedral- "It was fine in the mist" (simple words endowed with great meaning again)- and glance in the window of a leather goods shop at a display portraying peacetime pursuits- riding boots, rucksack, ski boots. Wistfully, they exchange a couple of words about skiing. Henry's going to the mountains, all right, but not for skiing.

They enter a gun shop, where Henry buys a pistol to replace the one he lost when he was wounded. There are two fine moments of understatement in this brief scene. In one, the saleswoman, vouching for the quality of the used gun she's selling, says that it belonged to an officer who was an excellent shot. When Henry asks how she got it to sell, she answers simply, "From his orderly." The excellent gun did not save the officer from death. The other moment occurs when the saleswoman asks if Henry needs a sword. He says he's going to the front. That's all that needs to be said; there is no use for romantic weapons like swords in this brutal, modern war.

Henry and Catherine walk some more. They stop against a high wall and kiss, his cape covering them. Unthinkingly they mimic the anonymous couple they had seen before. They decide to take a hotel room until midnight, when Henry's train leaves.

He arranges for a room in a hotel across from the station. The room is decorated in red plush with many mirrors and a glass chandelier. Catherine reacts to the decor by saying that for the first time since they've been lovers she feels like a whore. It's an awkward moment, another incipient fight. But, as usual, she doesn't pursue it.

They dine, and afterward they reminisce, revealing for the first time some meager information about their families. Catherine's father has gout; Henry has a stepfather. Neither of them, they agree, will ever drag the other home to meet the family. Note their isolation- from their families, their countries, their friends. But they've found no way to isolate themselves from the war. And when Henry quotes two lines from the famous work by the seventeenth-century poet Andrew Marvell, "To His Coy Mistress," he is suggesting that romance is inevitably ended by death.

Catherine and Henry leave the hotel, poignantly wishing for a fine home and mordantly joking about some minor wound that might bring Henry back again.  



ECC [A Farewell to Arms Contents] []

© Copyright 1984 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
Electronically Enhanced Text © Copyright 1993, World Library, Inc.
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