Summary and Analysis
Book Four: Chapter XXXVII
Through the stormy night, Frederic Henry and Catherine Barkley row across the lake from Italy into Switzerland. The following day they are arrested and briefly detained, after which they are released.
This chapter, the climax of Book Four, deftly combines thrilling action and nail-biting suspense with comic relief — not to mention relief in general, when Frederic Henry and Catherine Barkley are released by the police, their escape from Italy an apparent success. Notice how Hemingway combines the nighttime setting, stormy conditions (include the symbolically significant rain), the physical challenge of rowing for miles and miles, Catherine's vulnerable condition ("Watch the oar doesn't pop you in the tummy"), and the threat of arrest by patrolling customs officers to yield drama of the highest order. The boat journey itself shows the influence of a short story by one of Hemingway's favorite writers, Stephen Crane's "The Open Boat."
The comic relief provided by Henry and Catherine's masquerade as students of art and architecture, followed by the winter-sports argument between the Swiss police, can justly be compared to similar scenes in Shakespeare — the gravedigger scene in Hamlet, for instance. Such material provides the reader or audience with a respite from the emotional intensity of the unfolding drama. Moreover, when tragedy finally strikes, it will be that much more powerful because of its contrast to the comic material that went before.
With regard to characterization, Catherine's extraordinary fortitude is very much in evidence here. Despite her fairly advanced pregnancy, she not only travels through the November night in an open boat but also offers to hold the umbrella so it will serve as a sail. She steers and bails and even rows for a while, always maintaining a sense of humor. Is she one of "the very brave" that Henry has recently told us the world must kill?
Intra a town on the shore of Lake Maggiore.
Castagnola a town on the shore of Lake Maggiore.
guardia di finanza (Italian) customs service.
catch crabs in rowing, to fail to clear the water on the recovery stroke accidentally, thereby unbalancing the boat or impeding its movement.
Locarno a town in south Switzerland, on Lake Maggiore. Significantly, it would be the site of a peace conference in 1925.
Wengen a winter resort.
Montreaux a town in west Switzerland, on Lake Geneva.
luge a small racing sled on which one or two riders lie face up with the feet forward.
piste (Italian) tracks or trails.
Engadine the valley of the upper Inn River, east Switzerland: site of many resorts.
stazione (Italian) station.
There's no hole in my side a reference to Jesus Christ, wounded in the side by a Roman spear. Henry's sacrilegious joke is inspired by his blistered palms, which recall Christ's stigmata.