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KEY LITERARY ELEMENTS
The novel is primarily set in Gorizia, a small town near the Italian-Austrian border, with World War I as its backdrop. Italy, part of the Allied Powers, is opposed by Austria, part of the Central Powers. In the final stages of the war, the U.S.A. supported the Allied Powers. The war was fought between 1914 and 1918. The protagonist, Frederic Henry, an ambulance driver and officer in the Italian army when the novel opens, is stationed in Gorizia.
In Book II, the Protagonist is wounded and is sent to a Milan hospital. Therefore, the action now moves to Milan. Here, the parallel theme of love between the Protagonist and the heroine, Catherine Barkley, develops.
In Book III, upon the cancellation of his convalescent leave, Henry is sent back to the front, in Gorizia. The novel is now set against not Gorizia, but the awesome Caporetto and the (in)famous retreat. Historically, the Battle of Caporetto was fought in October 1917, between the Italian and German- Austrian forces and as far as Italy was concerned, the battle was an disaster. Caporetto is a small town on the banks of the river Isonzo in Italy. Though at some places the Italian army resisted the German-Austrian army, it was fighting a losing battle. The battle and Caporetto were lost and the Italian forces were compelled to withdraw. This is called the Retreat, whose details are realistically presented in Book III. The setting then is Caporetto, the historically famous small town.
In Book IV, the action moves back again to Milan, Italy. From there, till the end of the novel, the setting is in neutral Switzerland, where Henry and Catherine flee and stay till her death. Throughout the novel, the setting offers a striking contrast between the mountains, which are majestic, lofty and dignified and the plains, which are associated with death, decay, and degeneration.
LIST OF CHARACTERS
Lieutenant Frederic Henry
The narrator and the protagonist. A former student of architecture who has volunteered to join the Italian army as an ambulance officer, because he could speak Italian. An indifferent soldier, he finds fulfillment in love, following his injury and subsequent desertion of his army post.
An English nurse with whom Henry falls in love. Her bodily structure prevents her having a natural delivery of a child; she dies following a Caesarian operation.
Minor Characters Rinaldi
An excellent surgeon in the Italian army. He is witty, garrulous, highly sexual, has a habit of excessive drinking, and is disillusioned by the war. A great friend of Henry’s.
A real man of God whose faith in Christianity and morals remain unshaken even in the face of the absolute debauchery of the army. He is a friend, philosopher, and guide to Henry. True love for him implies service and sacrifice. He is a butt of vulgar jokes in the officer’s mess. He is the Code Hero in this novel, an embodiment of love, courage, honor and all that is positive in the world, from whom the Hero (Henry) has to acquire learning.
Miss Helen Ferguson
A Scottish Catholic nurse and friend of Catherine’s. She is a moralist and appears ill tempered but cares genuinely and deeply for Catherine. She believes firmly in morals and is to Catherine what Rinaldi is to Henry (a friend, concerned and caring).
A nurse in the hospital in Milan, a “friend” of Henry’s. Dislikes Catherine but helps Henry a lot.
Another nurse who admits Henry into the hospital at Milan when he arrives there wounded.
Miss Van Campen
The hospital superintendent. She dislikes Henry and sees to it that his convalescent leave is cancelled because she believes that his jaundice was self-inflicted due to excessive alcoholism.
A competent surgeon of the rank of a major, performs excellent surgery on Henry’s knee and restores its use to him.
Mr. and Mrs. Meyers
Eccentric friends of Henry’s in Milan. They do not trust each other: he with a shady past and she, big- busted and calling every one “dear boy.” Both provide comic relief to an otherwise gloomy story.
A braggadocio, the braggart soldier. A San Franciscan of Italian descent; twenty-three, a true war hero who looks unconvincing because of his habit of boasting too much about his exploits; disliked by Catherine for boring her.
A tenor and student of music; has adopted the name Eduardo Giovanni to impress the Italian audience.
Another music student who sang under the name Enrico del Credo; later helps Henry go to Stresa by lending his civilian clothes and bag.
The ninety-four year “young” billiards player; is worried that he is not devout even at that age; has excellent taste in literature and advises Henry that love is religion and life, valuable.
With a wicked sense of humor, works at the Grand Hotel in Stresa. Fishing is his hobby; lends his boat to Henry to escape to Switzerland and also brings him the important information that he is about to be arrested by the Italian police.
Mr. and Mrs. Guttingen
The owners of the mountain Villa in Montreux where Henry and Catherine live during the winter months. They take excellent care of Catherine in the advanced stages of her pregnancy.
Bonello, Aymo and Piani All are ambulance drivers. Aymo is killed; Bonello decides to be taken prisoner after the Retreat; and Piani accompanies Henry till the point of the latter’s desertion from the army.
Almost all these characters, with a possible exception of Miss Van Campen, are uniformly good, cheerful, and render valuable help to the lead pair at crucial points in the story.