A Farewell to Arms

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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.
War Theme Icon

A Farewell to Arms takes place in Italy during World War I, and the lives of all the characters are marked by the war. Most of the characters, from Henry and Catherine down to the soldiers and shop owners whom Henry meets, are humanists who echo Hemingway's view that war is a senseless waste of life. The few characters that support the war are presented as zealots to be either feared, as in the case of the military police, or pitied, such as the young Italian patriot Gino. To Henry, the war is, at first, a necessary evil from which he distracts himself through drinking and sex. By the end of the novel, his experiences of the war have convinced him that it is a fundamentally unjust atrocity, which he seeks to escape at all costs with Catherine.

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War Quotes in A Farewell to Arms

Below you will find the important quotes in A Farewell to Arms related to the theme of War.
Chapter 1 Quotes
At the start of the winter came the permanent rain and with the rain came the cholera. But it was checked and in the end only seven thousand died of it in the army.
Related Characters: Lieutenant Frederic Henry (speaker)
Related Symbols: Rain
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs at the end of the first chapter, when Lieutenant Henry describes how the natural environment has been altered by the war. He’s talking about the area surrounding the village in which his regiment lived prior to their relocation to Gorizia.

Here, we get a sense of how the war has desensitized Henry’s feelings about death: ‘only’ seven thousand died, he casually and unflinchingly says, as if seven thousand were not a significant number, and as if it were an ordinary, passing thought.The rain’s “permanence” only adds to this aura of desensitization, giving the sense of a continual, relentless pelting, the resistance of which--like the onslaught of cholera deaths--seems almost futile.

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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.

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 18 Quotes
"You're my religion. You're all I've got."
Related Characters: Catherine Barkley (speaker), Lieutenant Frederic Henry
Page Number: 100
Explanation and Analysis:

Lieutenant Henry is still at the American hospital in Milan. It's summer, and he and Catherine are discussing the prospect of getting married. Catherine notes that if they are legally married, she will be sent away to another hospital. Henry suggests getting married privately, but Catherine doesn't see the point in it, because she's not religious. She then calls Henry her "religion."

Catherine's equation of her love for Henry with religion itself, despite her claim to having no religion, is striking. It shifts the idea of religion from something which regards the supernatural or divine to something more immediate to human experience. Religion, for Catherine, seems to connote a strongly-felt emotion, or a very intimate sense of connection to another human--not a connection with something 'higher.' This is echoed later in the novel, when Count Greffi calls Henry's love for Catherine a "religious" feeling. 

Further, "You're all I've got" is spoken by Catherine as if it's the defining condition of "religion." In other words, the fact that Henry is "all she has"--like an intense kind of lifeline--seems to be why she feels compelled to call him her "religion." The extraordinary power and meaning of Henry's presence in Catherine's life achieves for her a religious status.


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.