A Farewell to Arms

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Reality vs. Fantasy Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
War Theme Icon
Love and Loss Theme Icon
Reality vs. Fantasy Theme Icon
Self vs. Duty Theme Icon
Manhood Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in A Farewell to Arms, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Reality vs. Fantasy Theme Icon

Throughout A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway shows how the harsh truths of reality always infiltrate and corrupt the distracting fantasies that characters create to make themselves feel better. In terms of war, Hemingway shows how ideals such as glory and honor quickly fade when one is confronted with the stark or absurd realities of battle—for instance, when Henry is maimed by a mortar shell while eating macaroni and cheese.

Many characters create escapist fantasies to make the war around them easier to bear. Catherine pretends that she and Henry are deeply in love to escape the pain of her fiancé's death in battle. Henry's fellow officers celebrate America's entry into the war by drinking in a hospital that is being cleared out to make room for casualties. Most tragically, Henry and Catherine retreat from the world to live an idealized private life in the mountains of Switzerland, only to have the specter of reality return when Catherine and her baby die during childbirth.

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Reality vs. Fantasy Quotes in A Farewell to Arms

Below you will find the important quotes in A Farewell to Arms related to the theme of Reality vs. Fantasy.
Chapter 3 Quotes
I had gone to no place where the roads were frozen and hard as iron, where it was clear cold and dry and the snow was dry and powdery and hare-tracks in the snow and the peasants took off their hats and called you Lord and there was good hunting. I had gone to no such place but to the smoke of cafes and nights when the room whirled and you needed to look at the wall to make it stop, nights in bed, drunk, when you knew that that was all there was.
Related Characters: Lieutenant Frederic Henry (speaker)
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs after Lieutenant Henry’s winter leave. The priest had wanted Henry to visit his family in Abruzzi, but Henry “had gone to no such place.” Though Henry wanted to see Abruzzi, he got caught up in visiting more urban areas, such as Milan and Florence.

Here, Henry displays his attraction to debauchery and metropolitan excitement, his desire to escape the harsh reality of war in an extreme burst of drunken adventures--to drown the war in a whirl of intoxication, and feel as if what remained “was all there was.” Further, Henry says that the places he went to were the “smoke of cafes” and “nights”--not geographical locations at all. This adds to the sense that Henry was not looking to visit any particular place, but rather to achieve a certain mental state, a way of feeling and living that was not possible at the front.


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Chapter 6 Quotes
"You don't have to pretend you love me. That's over for the evening. Is there anything you'd like to talk about?"
"But I do love you."
"Please let's not lie when we don't have to."
Related Characters: Lieutenant Frederic Henry (speaker), Catherine Barkley (speaker)
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:

Lieutenant Henry and Catherine Barkley have this exchange during their second rendezvous at Gorizia. Rinaldi has stopped pursuing Catherine, having noticed that she prefers Henry.

Though Catherine often seems giddy and lighthearted, and somewhat divorced from the dire nature of certain situations, here she is serious and reflective. She seems to want to avoid the “game” of romance, to lift the burden of that game off of the evening’s shoulders, and engage in conversation with more meaning than mere flattery. Henry tries to reassure her (“But I do love you”), yet Catherine maintains the line between truth and falsity, reality and fantasy. She wants to preserve the truth, seeing the performance of courtship as an unnecessary guise. She perhaps realizes her own complicity in performing--her desire to replace her late lover--and so she sees through Henry's own performance, which he's engineered in an attempt to have sex with Catherine. But Catherine wants to avoid ‘lying’--in the general sense of performing, acting, or not being realistic--as much as possible.

Chapter 9 Quotes
I sat up straight and as I did so something inside my head moved like the weights on a doll's eyes and it hit me inside in back of my eyeballs. My legs felt warm and wet and my shoes were wet and warm inside. I knew that I was hit and leaned over and put my hand on my knee. My knee wasn't there.
Related Characters: Lieutenant Frederic Henry (speaker)
Page Number: 48
Explanation and Analysis:

This scene takes place at one of the mountain posts (above Plava, a village in Slovenia near the Soča River) by Gorizia. The Italian and Austrian armies are engaged in a “show,” or battle, and Lieutenant Henry is stationed at the post along with four other ambulance drivers--Gavuzzi, Gordini, Manera, and Passini--to help and transport the wounded. Somewhat ironically, the battle scene centers on how these medical aids--those responsible for helping the wounded--come to need aid themselves. Passini has been hit very badly by shrapnel from a nearby-landed mortar bomb; Henry has been hit too, but not as severely. Henry moves to put a tourniquet on Passini’s wounded legs, but realizes he is already dead. He then decides to try and find where Gavuzzi, Gordini, and Manera are--and this is when he sits up straight, feeling the weight in the back of his eyeballs.

Perhaps the real shock of this scene is not Passini's death, but rather Henry’s acknowledgment of his missing knee, a shock which Hemingway’s manner of phrasing produces: Henry literally puts his hand on his knee, but his knee isn’t there. How can you put your hand on something that is missing? Here we see the trauma of an everyday expectation--that Henry’s knee will be where it always is--being suddenly, traumatically, thwarted. Henry has been mutilated; his knee has slid down onto his shin, becoming a totally foreign object, dislocated from its normal position and function. This scene exposes not only physical details about the absolute horror of wartime violence, but also a psychological dimension: how a person's taken-for-granted identification with their body can be instantly ruptured. Injury fractures a person's relationship to their body, making it into an especially alien object.

Chapter 16 Quotes
"There, darling. Now you're all clean inside and out. Tell me. How many people have you ever loved?"
Related Characters: Lieutenant Frederic Henry (speaker), Catherine Barkley (speaker)
Page Number: 91
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs while Catherine Barkley is cleaning Lieutenant Henry's wounds, in preparation for his surgery with Dr. Valentini.

This exchange is an epitome of the flightiness that characterizes Hemingway's dialogue--Catherine rapidly jumps from discussing Henry's wounds to inquiring about the history of his love life, in a split second. "Tell me" gets a sentence all to its own, embodying the terseness that is essential to Hemingway's writing.

Henry's equally terse reply, "Nobody," is--as he reveals shortly after--a lie. (He doesn't go into any detail in describing his past; he just vaguely reveals that there have been others before Catherine.) This is ironic, considering Catherine's earlier request in Chapter 6: "Please let's not lie when we don't have to." Henry avoids disclosing his romantic past, it seems, in order to protect Catherine's feelings--to preserve the current sanctity and freshness of their relationship.

This scene raises the questions: is it possible to maintain a romantic relationship while only ever telling the truth? Is there not an element of fantasy integral to any such relationship, which must be protected by lying, or beautifying the reality of the past?

Chapter 19 Quotes
"I'm afraid of the rain because sometimes I see me dead in it."
Related Characters: Catherine Barkley (speaker)
Related Symbols: Rain
Page Number: 110
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote, spoken by Catherine Barkley to Lieutenant Henry, occurs in the America Hospital in Milan. Henry has just returned from an afternoon in the city. Outside, it's raining.

There's a substantial association between rain and death in this novel: Catherine either quite literally hallucinates seeing her corpse in the rain, or is reminded by rain about the inevitability of death--and the foreshadowed, fatal ending of the novel is cloaked in rain.

Hemingway brings out rain's overwhelming power. Even though rain can be light and subtle--i.e., drizzling--it's always something beyond human control. Like death, it's a force that cannot be stopped by human intervention. Rain can only be avoided by seeking shelter; death can only bepostponed by medicine. Ultimately, these extra-human forces win out and endure beyond our interventions. Hemingway makes the lightness of rain into a massive, nearly omnipresent reminder of human mortality.

Chapter 27 Quotes
I was always embarrassed by the words sacred, glorious and sacrifice and the expression in vain. We had heard them, sometimes standing in the rain almost out of earshot, so that only the shouted words came through, and had read them on proclamations that were slapped up by billposters over other proclamations, now for a long time, and I had seen nothing sacred, and the things that were glorious had no glory and the sacrifices were like the stockyards at Chicago if nothing was done with the meat except to bury it.
Related Characters: Lieutenant Frederic Henry (speaker)
Page Number: 161
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage takes place after Lieutenant Henry’s winter leave, when he arrives at Bainsizza to receive new orders and converses with Gino. Gino uses the expression “in vain” to describe the Italian army’s efforts during the recent summer: he says they have not been “in vain.”Here, Lieutenant Henry shows one way in which the war has affected how he thinks: words like “sacred,” “glorious,” “sacrifice,” or expressions such as Gino’s “in vain”--phrases often employed to justify the violence of war--mean nothing to him. He alludes to the fact that they are key words in wartime propaganda and communication: they are present on “proclamations,” or war bulletins that are excessively, almost nauseatingly, posted one over the other.

Henry thinks that nothing of his experience of the war can be described by such words; they have no ground in actual life. He has seen nothing sacred nor glorious, and the sacrifices required of him by his duty ultimately have no higher purpose--like a cow butchered simply to have its meat thrown away.

Shortly after this quote, he calls these empty words “abstract”--differing from more concrete words that represent real, tangible things. Henry thinks that only certain numbers, dates, and the names of places have “dignity.” Only these kinds of terms and words can convey a particular meaning, as they do not try to pass off a personal meaning as if it were universal and objective.

The war has complicated Henry’s thought, right down to the very level of how he perceives language: the war has punctured the illusory meaning, the fantasy, of abstract terms. When abstract words are uttered with total confidence, Henry is embarrassed, because such confidence lacks substance and has no ground in any concrete meaning. The war, Henry believes, has shown that these words—these abstract staples of thought which stitch many soldiers’ sense about the war’s purpose together—are hollow and obsolete.

Chapter 29 Quotes
"I killed him. I never killed anybody in this war, and all my life I've wanted to kill a sergeant."
Related Characters: Bonello (speaker), The Sergeants
Page Number: 180
Explanation and Analysis:

This scene occurs after the Italian army has commenced their retreat. Lieutenant Henry and his fellow ambulance drivers--Aymo, Piani, and Bonello--decide to leave the main thoroughfare of the retreat, which is heavily congested and slow-going, in order to arrive at Udine more quickly, where they are to deliver medical equipment. They are accompanied by two sergeant engineers.Not too long after they are off the main road, the ambulances get stuck in mud. Henry asks the sergeants to help with loosening the wheels from the mud, but they refuse, insisting that they need to start walking soon or else it will be too late. They refuse to halt when Henry orders them, and so he shoots at them, hitting one, while the other escapes unscathed.Bonello "finishes" the wounded sergeant off by shooting him in the head.

Though the scene is quite bleak, Bonello's claim to having always wanted to murder a sergeant resonates with a bit of dark humor. Perhaps what's most striking is Henry and Bonello's sense of authority in shooting the sergeants. The sergeants' shirking of their duty--their attempt to start walking away--merits their immediate execution,in Henry and Bonello's eyes. But Bonello takes it to another level: he savagely mutilates the quite possibly already-dead sergeant, showing not only his high sense of duty and conviction but also his thirst for blood which, heretofore, has gone unsatisfied.

Chapter 30 Quotes
The questioners had that beautiful detachment and devotion to stern justice of men dealing in death without being in any danger of it.
Related Characters: Lieutenant Frederic Henry (speaker)
Page Number: 194
Explanation and Analysis:

Lieutenant Henry and Piani have regrouped with the Italian forces; Aymo has been shot and killed by the Italians, and Bonello has decided to surrender. Henry is spotted by a group of "battle police" as he and Bonello reach the end of a bridge over the Tagliamento River. They suspect him to be a German in disguise, and pull him aside to be questioned.The battle police question and kill several officers as Henry awaits questioning.

Henry can sense that these battle police don't possess the backbone or character which men with combat experience do. They mete out a "stern justice" with a sense of absolute conviction and self-righteousness, detached from the gravity of their actions. They unflinchingly send, one by one, innocent officers to be shot--for 'crimes' such as deserting their regiments--without empathizing with or really inquiring about how these officers got into their particular situations. The battle police are quick to assume that everyone pulled aside is a German; it's as if their position of power and removal from the precariousness of war have totally gone to their heads.

Chapter 32 Quotes
I had the paper but I did not read it because I did not want to read about the war. I was going to forget the war. I had made a separate peace.
Related Characters: Lieutenant Frederic Henry (speaker)
Page Number: 211
Explanation and Analysis:

Lieutenant Henry gets off the train he's hopped when it reaches Milan, and goes to visit his friend Simmons, who gives him civilian clothes to wear. He then buys a train ticket for Stresa. This quote refers to Henry's time on the train.

This passage further evolves the sense of eroded obligation that Henry mentions when he's laying on the bed of the train he's hopped towards Mestre. It's as if Henry wants to forget his duty in order to regain his sense of self--as if duty and selfhood are radically opposed. That Henry wants to make a "separate peace" indicates his desire to build a psychological space for himself that is independent of the realities of war--a space that he has been prevented from having for quite a while. To return to a mental state where all of his thoughts, desires, and concerns no longer revolve around the status of the war--this is an incredible transformation, a regaining of Henry's sense of private ambition and independence. This is Henry's new mission.

The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.
Related Characters: Lieutenant Frederic Henry (speaker)
Page Number: 216
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, Lieutenant Henry reveals a core belief he holds about the world: it is violently opposed to human desire. The human mind, the way it wishes for and wills to do things, the way it organizes its experience, is fundamentally in discord with external reality. The world “breaks,” thwarts and mocks human desire; it fractures the fantasies which try to hide from the facts of war and the inevitability of death.

Though Catherine and Henry are building a new life together, they will never be able to outrun these forces of the world which perpetually threaten to defeat enjoyment and life itself.

For Henry, everyone is affected by this discordance with the external world, even the good, the gentle, and the brave—even those who mean well and want to be a positive force in the world. And those who are none of these things—those who see nothing redeeming in the world, in life, those who do not try to cultivate goodness or gentleness in the world, or who cower from it—these people are equally at odds with the world.The world “breaks” good people, but it seems that, for Henry, “bad” people avoid or run from this fact of breakage. They will be killed, in the end, but they will not suffer the particular frustration that good people face in interacting with the world.

Chapter 40 Quotes
We knew the baby was very close now and it gave us both a feeling as though something were hurrying us and we could not lose any time together.
Related Characters: Lieutenant Frederic Henry (speaker), Catherine Barkley
Page Number: 266
Explanation and Analysis:

Having escaped to Switzerland, Catherine Barkley and Lieutenant Henry are staying at a hotel in Lausanne.

At the same time that this quote conveys a sense of emerging life and hopeful ambition, it also foreshadows the fatal ending of the novel, which invokes radically opposite qualities. Indeed, Catherine and Henry cannot afford to lose any time together; but this will take on a different meaning in the end. The baby, hurrying the couple to appreciate their last days alone together, is also hurrying them towards their fatal split from one another. This tragic irony gives this quote an ominous sense of double-meaning.

Chapter 41 Quotes
God please make her not die. I'll do anything you say if you don't let her die. You took the baby but don't let her die. That was all right but don't let her die. Please, please, dear God, don't let her die.
Related Characters: Lieutenant Frederic Henry (speaker), Catherine Barkley
Page Number: 282
Explanation and Analysis:

A nurse has just informed Lieutenant Henry that Catherine has had a hemorrhage after delivering her baby--a condition that could be fatal.

Here, Henry's control over external reality has reached an overwhelming limit. He is totally powerless (emasculated, Hemingway suggests), and only prayer seems to alleviate his sense of uncertainty and fear. But further, his prayer, his attempt to communicate with God, seems genuine; this moment displays a much more heightened and intensified openness to the possibility of God compared to any previous instance of Henry's narration. Though a main motif of the novel has focused on connecting the human feeling of love with religion--connecting a phenomenon that occurs within the human world with the purportedly "supernatural" realm of religion--this scene shows how the threat of imminent death, something fundamentally opposed to the concrete human world and outside of human existence, is the cause of religious sentiment. Death has chased Henry into a corner where he has no control, and his only hope is to appeal to something higher than himself that may.

But after I had got them out and shut the door and turned off the lights it wasn't any good. It was like saying good-by to a statue. After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain.
Related Characters: Lieutenant Frederic Henry (speaker), Catherine Barkley
Related Symbols: Rain
Page Number: 320
Explanation and Analysis:

These are the last three sentences of the novel, describing what Lieutenant Henry thinks and does after Catherine dies from her (failed) childbirth. Despite their protesting, Henry orders the nurses out of Catherine’s room in order to have a moment of privacy with her. But he finds that nothing of “her” remains—now she is a lifeless “statue,” and every trace of her former being is erased. Saying good-bye brings no satisfaction, no reconciliation with Catherine's departure. Henry's fantasy of communicating with Catherine is eclipsed by the reality of her death.

Henry’s act of leaving the hospital is narrated with a lifelessness similar to Catherine’s corpse, devoid of any explicit sense of grief or sadness. Henry just leaves, and that’s it. There's a sadness in Henry's action, but not in anything he expresses--he does not relay any inward feeling.He just walks out of the hospital and into the rain which, ironically, Catherine tells us (earlier in the novel) she always saw herself dead in. The rain, which Lieutenant Henry describes as "permanent" in the first chapter, further demonstrates its unrelenting power and the unstoppable force of death. It keeps pouring and pouring, without any regard for the particular circumstances of human affairs. Henry's character blends into and merges with this perpetual force, which practically erases him and his entire history into the very last word of the novel: "rain."