A Farewell to Arms: Old Fashioned Love and Catherine

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Catherine and Old Fashioned Love in A Farewell to Arms

The traditional practices of love and marriage are often jarring and even alien to young people. These days we tend to carry out mutual affection via a system of give and take, of sharing one’s life and love with the other party in equal measure, or so we would ideally have it. We get married, we have kids, but we don’t completely give our lives away to the other person, or, more specifically, the women do not give themselves entirely to a man, and even in marriage such practice is no longer expected. Women can have their own lives, their own careers, and it’s up to them to decide for themselves how they wish to live their lives. So when we see what one might consider the “traditional” marriage ideal—that practice found in the early 20th century, before or just after women even had the right to vote—it can be seen as strange and even barbaric. Such is the love practiced in Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms between Frederic and Catherine, and their relationship may even be something of a parody.

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Of course, that isn’t to say that their love isn’t genuine. Frederic repeats several times that he loves her so, and Catherine certainly would have no reason or desire to give herself so fully to Frederic if she didn’t love him back. The satirical elements only show themselves when one realizes how cornily over-the-top this total affection they have for each other is, especially in the case of Catherine’s feelings for Frederic. She makes a point to state very often that she basically gives up any want of happiness for herself and that she is instead choosing to be devoted entirely to Frederic and making him happy. Frequently she lets him make major life decisions for the both of them, like running from the Italian police and moving to Switzerland, or having a baby out of wedlock (which brings up the question of the novel’s stance on religion, which is an entirely different paper).

And though he loves her very much, Frederic doesn’t exchange this sentiment. Sure, he wants Catherine to be happy, but he does not give himself up for her happiness like she does for him, and, indeed, if he did, then they would likely pull themselves apart for indecision. I can only imagine the fights that would ensue over deciding which restaurant to dine at. No, instead, he leads the charge throughout the novel when it comes to their relationship, and, according to classical marital standards, this is the correct way to run a family: the man is in charge, the woman supports him and makes him happy and has the babies. This persists throughout the novel, at least until they find peace in Switzerland, at which time she starts to have wants and desires of her own, though, again, they never conflict with Frederic’s wishes. She never gets bored and wishes to move out of Switzerland and back to Britain, but in the late stages of her pregnancy it becomes Frederic’s mission to take care of her, at least to an extent.

There is one scene, however, that strongly features her, and this is a moment that majorly foreshadows the ending. During Frederic’s recovery near the end of book two, the two of them share a stormy night alone in the hospital. Catherine speaks of being afraid of the rain, and when questioned by Frederic, she admits to being afraid of the vision of seeing herself in it, dead, as well as Frederic. Rather than Frederic comforting her, she comforts herself, saying, “It’s all nonsense,” and, “I can keep you safe. I know I can. But nobody can help themselves.” This foreshadows the ending because, in the end, it rains, and she dies giving birth to her son, who was also a miscarriage, leaving Frederic, alone and unprotected, to wander through the rain back to his hotel.

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