Summary and Analysis Book Four: Chapter XXXVIII



Frederic Henry and Catherine Barkley move into a chalet on a mountain above Montreaux. Henry reads newspaper reports that the fighting goes badly for the Italian side.


Regarding the novel's symbolism, notice that snow comes unusually late during the winter described. As a result, the fighting continues. Frederic Henry says that the war "seemed as far away as the football games of someone else's college," and yet he worries about his compatriots Rinaldi and the priest. "I don't want to think about the war," he tells Catherine. "I'm through with it." Still, Henry has difficulty sleeping at night, presumably a result of guilt over his desertion.

Eventually, however, two benign strands of symbolism intertwine as Henry and Catherine find themselves in the mountains, with snow all around. Thus they have achieved, momentarily at least, a life of both purity and safety. (The landscape strongly recalls that of the priest's Abruzzi hometown as described near the start of the novel.) And indeed, due to Hemingway's remarkable powers of description, Chapter XXXVIII and those immediately afterwards positively radiate contentment. This is a clever storytelling strategy on the writer's part, as what follows will be that much more horrific by contrast with this idyllic section.

Henry again suggests marriage, and Catherine again resists, as she doesn't want to be a bride while so obviously pregnant. Not that it would matter much, as Henry and Catherine know almost no one in Montreaux. And yet their isolation brings them closer together than ever. In fact, Catherine suggests they wear their hair the same length, so as to be more alike. "Oh darling," she says, "I want you so much I want to be you too." Henry replies, "You are. We're the same one."

This chapter also contains foreshadowing of an explicit, technical, and distinctly ominous nature: Catherine's doctor tells her she has narrow hips, which could be problematic with regard to childbirth.


Chalet a type of Swiss house, built of wood with balconies and overhanging eaves.

Rhone a river flowing from southwest Switzerland south through France into the Gulf of Lions.

Dent du Midi mountain in the Alps.

"Hoyle" a book of rules and instructions for indoor games, especially card games, originally compiled by Edmond Hoyle (1672-1769), English authority on card games and chess.

Zurich capital of canton in north Switzerland, on the Lake of Zurich.

Chernex, Fontanivent alpine villages.

grebe a diving or swimming bird with broadly lobed toes and legs set far back on the body.

Munich a city in southeast Germany, capital of the state of Bavaria.

Niagara Falls a large waterfall on the Niagara River, between New York State and Canada; a traditional honeymoon destination.

The Woolworth Building a New York skyscraper designed by Cass Gilbert and built in 1913; until 1931 it was the tallest building in the world. The Woolworth Building was known as the "cathedral of commerce," which makes Catherine's desire to go there vaguely ironic after her refusal to enter the actual cathedral in Milan.

M.O.B. Montreaux Oberland Bernois railway.