Week 2: Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms Read-a-Long

Welcome to week two of the Ernest Hemingway A Farewell to Arms read-a-long. 

For this week, we read chapters 11-20.  Here are this week’s questions, feel free to join the discussion.

1. There is a lot of talk about being tired or the priest looking tired in this section.  What do you think Hemingway is trying to get at?

S:  In many ways, these scenes in which the narrator talks about people being tired or looking tired, I think it’s Hemingway’s way of demonstrating that war takes its toll on everyone, including priests and soldiers.  In a way, it demonstrates how just being a witness to war can take its toll.  However, I wonder if Hemingway could have done more to describe the characters as being tired, rather than having the narrator tell readers that he looked or was tired.  I wanted to see the bags under the eyes and the drawn faces and pale complexions from lack of sleep.

A: That’s about the most descriptive Hemingway gets, to simply say he seemed and sounded tired. So far, aside from the scene in which Henry is wounded, it feels like it’s a book about the war without being a book about the war. The war is always there, in talk of the front, in the priest being tired, in Henry being wounded, but it’s like it’s in the background, which I think is tied to the distance Hemingway puts between readers and his characters.

2.  The relationship between Henry and Catherine is heating up.  At one point she talks about how there is no separate her and that she is Henry.  Please explain what you think she means.

S:  I wonder if this relationship truly is a love match.  I think that they are overly dramatic about their feelings for one another and remind me of young teenagers in love who are obsessive about their feelings and proximity to one another — much of which is related to high hormone levels and immaturity of emotion.  It is unclear how old Henry is, but he would have to be a young man given his reactions to the world around him and his seemingly carefree attitude about his injuries and the obsessive nature of his “love” for Catherine.  I think Catherine finds an escape from the war in Henry, and she quite easily loses herself in their relationship because its the brightest spot in the ordeal for her.

A: I think they love each other in the sense that they comfort one another in the midst of war. I’m still not convinced that it’s really love. I would love to know if Catherine seemed so crazy in her life before the war. The way she talks and goes on about whether he really loves her and if she’s doing everything he wants her to do, etc., is a bit much. If it weren’t for the war, I wonder how quickly Henry would tire of her. Maybe because of her recent loss, she’s desperate for some love and happiness. You can see that desperation in her unwillingness to get married because she doesn’t want to be parted from Henry and she’s already lost someone she’d been waiting to marry.

3.  What are your impressions of Henry so far given his reaction to the war, being wounded, falling in love, and his relationships to others?

S:  I still feel distant from Henry, like I know very little about him given that he does not tell us his age at the time of the war and that the POV seems to be from an older Henry sometime in the future and reflecting back.  This construct makes readers distant from Henry the character and the narrator, which makes me wonder what he’s hiding about his past.  I did find it odd that he seems to be the only one able to take charge of the situation at the recovery hospital that is ill-prepared for his arrival and that he calmly adapts to the situation and the pain in his legs before, during and after surgery.  However, part of that may be his use of alcohol to numb the pain, as he’s seen drinking and or getting drunk at several points during his transition from the field hospital to the hospital where he will have surgery and commence his recovery.

A: I don’t feel any real connection to Henry. I don’t even know if I like him, and I don’t feel too invested in his story at this point. I’m intrigued about why an American would join the Italian Army, but we get so few details about him. I don’t know how old he is, I can’t form a picture of what he might look like in my mind, and I don’t really understand what motivates him. He seems like a good officer, with command over any situation, and he seems well liked and respected. He’s not someone who likes sitting still. I wonder if the intensity of his relationship with Catherine during his recovery has to do with him being bored and wanting to forget about the war and having to go back to it soon.

4. What do you think of Hemingway’s writing style and the story itself so far? Are you enjoying it?

S:  I’ve gotten used to the terse prose and the rambling, but the lack of detail irks me.  I want to see the places he is; I want to see the front; I want to know how old these people are.  I don’t mind the story so far, though it really seems to be more about this love affair and less about the actual war.  It’s just an OK read so far.

A: I think I’m getting used to the sparse prose, and if it’s rambling, I’m noticing it less. The lack of detail and connection to the characters is preventing me from really getting involved in the story. I’m only mildly curious about what will happen next, so I just hope it gets better.

Please post your thoughts (and any questions you might have) in the comments below, or feel free to link to a post you’ve written on your blog.  Thanks for participating!

Next week, we’ll be reading Chapters 21-30.  We’ll post discussion questions on Friday, June 22.


  1. […] on over today to check out what we’re discussing, but be aware that there could be spoilers. Related […]

  2. I was really impressed by the narrator’s (Frederic Henry’s) stoicism in this section: https://necromancyneverpays.wordpress.com/2012/06/14/a-farewell-to-arms-part-two/

  3. Thanks, Jeanne, for participating. He is stoic..and I wonder if part of that doesn’t have to do with the fact that he’s telling us about the past from sometime in the future…hence the distance.

  4. Ack! I forgot to read! OK, I’m halfway through the section, will finish tomorrow. So far I’m liking it a lot more now.

  5. Jean: No worries. Please just answer the questions anytime you get to them. Our next post will be Friday, June 22 for the following section Ch. 21-30

  6. Here’s my post. Um, I don’t like Catherine. Or Henry! http://howlingfrog.blogspot.com/2012/06/farewell-to-arms-readalong-ii.html

  7. 1 – I agree with earlier comments that war would have a devastating affect on everyone associated with it. I’m sure the priest must be very busy with the wounded, although we really don’t see that from the story.
    2 – OK, I know that this was written in a different time, but really! I can’t stand a woman who has no thoughts of her own and only lives for the man she “loves” – but I’m not even sure Catherine really loves Henry. They still hardly know each other – or maybe it’s just that we don’t know either of them.
    3 – Henry seems pretty shallow. He was stoic enough over his wound, but he just wants to drink and make love to Catherine and have a good time. He “loves” Catherine because she’s pretty and she’ll do whatever he wants her to do.
    4 – I’m enjoying the book enough to continue with it, but the writing style is pretty unremarkable as far as I’m concerned. I’m surprised this book is considered a classic – I’m not sure why it is. Maybe when it was written it was very different than they way books had been written at the time?

  8. Jeanne and jeanlp — Will be reading your posts shortly!

    Cheryl — I couldn’t agree with you more, especially on Catherine not having any thoughts of her own. She really annoyed me in this section. I’m also curious as to why it’s considered a classic…maybe we’ll have a clearer understanding by the end of the book. One can hope! 😉

  9. csgebhart, I totally agree! I think the writing style must have seemed revolutionary or something…

  10. Cheryl, according to the back of my book, the writing style was unusual for the time because it was terse and often focused on short, declarative sentences…lol

  11. Thanks for clarifying that Serena! LOL!

  12. you’re welcome

  13. Well I am late with my post again. Ugh! Here is the link: http://booksnob-booksnob.blogspot.com/2012/06/farewell-to-arms-read-long_18.html

    I tend to agree with the most of your opinion presented here in the comments on your post. Especially about Clara and the priest.

  14. The details are very sparse in this book and I find myself wondering the same things you did Anna, about Henry’s age, motivations and aspirations, little of which is hinted at. Does he have any family? Why is he in the Italian Army? The book kind of reminds me of a play, where the reader has to fill in the scene details. I do appreciate Henry’s dry humor, though.

    Catherine is an enigma too. I still feel like they are playing a game, pretending they are married. It’s as if because they face life and death, they live for the moment. I can’t quite figure them out. I wish Catherine wasn’t such a nag about her love for Henry.

    That whole scene with the doctors, one of which wants to wait and the other who operates the very next day had me cracking up. How typical of the Italian system! I do feel Hemingway lived or spent some time in Italy and captured some of the Italian ways because they are subtly and sometimes overly displayed.

    Since we are only about halfway through the book, I really wonder how it will all play out.

  15. Serena — Still don’t get why that writing style makes it a classic, even if it was unusual for the time. LOL

    Booksnob — Will check out your post in a bit.

    Laura — Catherine the nag is quite annoying. I did think the scene with the doctors was amusing, though. I know that Hemingway was an ambulance driver in Italy during the war; I wonder how much of this book is autobiographical.

  16. Thanks for participating. I’ve commented on the post.

  17. […] are interested in checking out the read-along discussion (BEWARE OF SPOILERS), go here:  Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4. Book 11 for the WWI Reading Challenge Book 26 for the Historical Fiction Reading […]

  18. […] out the read-a-long discussions for week 1, week 2, week 3, and week 4 at War Through the […]

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