A Farewell to Arms By Ernest Hemingway Summary and Analysis Book One: Chapter III

Summary

In springtime, the narrator returns to Gorizia. His roommate and friend, a surgeon and lieutenant in the Italian army named Rinaldi, is introduced. Rinaldi asks the narrator about his leave and reports on the presence in the occupied town of what he calls "beautiful English girls," particularly a Miss Barkley. At the officers' mess in the evening, the narrator apologizes to the priest for not visiting the latter's home region of Abruzzi. Instead he spent his leave drinking and consorting with prostitutes. The baiting of the priest by his fellow Italian officers resumes.

Analysis

Upon the narrator's return to the front, what he earlier referred to as the "permanent rain" of winter is over for the time being, and in its place are warm sunshine and spring greenery. The absence here of the novel's primary symbol of death would seem to bode well. And yet the snow, the only thing that truly halts the fighting each year, has melted. Battle is therefore inevitable: "Next week the war starts again," Lieutenant Rinaldi reports.

Rinaldi is a humanist whose sensual values will be contrasted with the spiritual values of the priest. Rinaldi's relationship with the narrator is warm and easy and of a piece with Hemingway's treatment of male friendship in other books and stories. Miss Barkley, who will prove to be the heroine of A Farewell to Arms, is introduced almost as an aside. This is consistent with Hemingway's valuing of understatement, and it is also a realistic touch, as we often meet the most important people in our lives without great fanfare, even by accident.

The narrator's talk with the priest reiterates the mountains-plains dichotomy. Our narrator knows he should have traveled to Abruzzi, a "place where the roads were frozen and hard as iron, where it was clear and 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." Instead he has visited bars and whorehouses in the cities of the lowlands. For now, the narrator's strategy vis-à-vis the war specifically and the unpleasantness of the world in general could be referred to as obliteration, which he achieves via alcohol and sex. He is spiritually lost for the time being, and much of A Farewell to Arms will trace his movement toward self-realization.

As stated earlier, part of what makes the Hemingway style distinctive is its reliance on the actual rather than the theoretical. Note the specificity of the narrator's description of the room he shares with Rinaldi. Rather than telling us that this room is pleasantly familiar and yet slightly menacing, he focuses on the concrete: "The window was open," he reports, "my bed was made up with blankets and my things hung from the wall." The narrator lists these things (gas mask, helmet), then mentions his trunk, his boots, and his rifle. Without generalizing at all, Hemingway has told us much about the Spartan life of a soldier.

The Hemingway style reappears in the narrator's hallucinatory description of his winter leave: "I had gone to no such place," he says of Abruzzi, "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, and the strange excitement of waking and not knowing who it was with you, and the world all unreal in the dark and so exciting that you must resume again unknowing and not caring in the night, sure that this was all and all and all and not caring."

Again, in contrast to the received wisdom about Hemingway's style, this is not a short, declarative sentence; it is a long one that shows the influence of two writers Hemingway knew in Paris during the years before he wrote A Farewell to Arms. The technique known as stream-of-consciousness, an attempt to imitate the often illogical workings of the human mind, comes from the Irish writer James Joyce. Hemingway's teacher Gertrude Stein is probably responsible for his use of multiple conjunctions as well as repetition in general. (Stein's most famous sentences: "A rose is a rose is a rose," and "When you get there, there's no there there.")

Glossary

schutzen (German) marksmen.

Ciaou (Italian) Hello.

Villa San Giovanni, Messina, Taormina various locales in Italy.

the Cova restaurant in Milan.

Strega an after-dinner drink.

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