Summary and Analysis
Book One: Chapter XI
The priest visits Lieutenant Henry in the field hospital. They discuss the priest's alienation from their military unit and his dislike for the war, as well as Henry's lack of traditional religious beliefs.
"It made me feel very young to have the dark come after the dusk and then remain. It was like being put to bed after supper," Lieutenant Henry tells us. Remarkably, we still know almost nothing about his childhood and adolescence, or precisely how and why he became involved in the war. (We will never discover much about either.)
In general, Hemingway struggled to tell effective stories with as little of this sort of background (sometimes called exposition) as possible. Here he especially wanted to avoid complicating his tale with the issue of his protagonist's motivation, because any hint of altruism on Henry's part would imply just the sort of ethical code that he lacks before meeting Catherine. Moreover, if war is like life, as Hemingway seems to argue here, then we don't have a choice in the matter of our involvement. For both of these reasons, the author wants us to focus on the here and now of the story, not the whys and wherefores.
The priest tells Henry that he hates the war and reiterates the theme introduced by Passini that the war is made by certain people and executed by others. Henry still resists this notion. He also admits that he does not love God — that perhaps he does not love anyone. "You will," the priest reassures him. "I know you will." Clearly the priest knows Lieutenant Henry better than Henry knows himself. After the priest departs, Henry muses about the pure life in the priest's home region of Abruzzi, thus reintroducing the mountains-lowlands dichotomy.
Note the particular nature of the contrast between the peace-loving priest and Rinaldi, who is warm and likeable but attracted by the violence and sex associated with wartime. At this point in A Farewell to Arms, Henry stands somewhere between them, philosophically, as if at a crossroads. It is unclear whose path he will follow, despite his traumatic and painful recent experience.
vermouth a sweet or dry, white fortified wine flavored with aromatic herbs, used in cocktails and as an aperitif.
The News of the World a British tabloid newspaper.
Mestre a town in northeast Italy, just northwest of Venice.
Gran Sasso D'Italia literally, "Great Stone of Italy."
Aquila town in the Abruzzi region of Italy.