Hopeless Suffering in A Farewell to Arms
Near the end of A Farewell to Arms Ernest Hemingway has Fredrick Henry describe the time he placed a log full of ants on a fire. This incident allows us to understand a much larger occurrence, Catherine's pregnancy. Combined, both of these events form commentary on the backdrop for the entire story, World War One.
After he finds out his son was stillborn, Lt. Henry remembers the time when he placed a log full of ants on a fire. After sitting for a moment, the log began burning. When it started to burn the ants came out of the log. They ran back and forth across the log, first towards the flames, then away. Eventually most of them fell into the fire and burned. A very small number escaped the fire, but even these were badly hurt. The only action Fredrick took was to throw a cup of water on the log, but "the cup of water on the burning log only steamed the ants"(Hemingway, 328). This hopeless, mechanical picture of suffering allows us to understand other forms of pain in the book.
Catherine's pregnancy follows this same pattern. Fredrick says that "Catherine had a good time in the time of pregnancy"(320). This is the same as the pause before the log starts burning. Nothing bad has happened yet, but the outcome is inevitable. As Fredrick says of the labor, "this was the price you paid for sleeping together"(320). Once the labor begins, in their own way both Fredrick and Catherine begin to run back and forth between the fire and the cooler end of the log. In Catherine this takes the form of labor pains, which come and go repeatedly. Fredrick goes back and forth between the pain of the hospital and the calm of the cafe. Both are seeking release from their pain by the birth of their child. In the mean time, both struggle mechanically. In an attempt to escape the pain, Catherine is repeatedly given gas. At one point Fredrick says he can't give her any more because "it might kill you"(322). It is possible that the effects of the gas weakened Catherine to the point that she dies. In this way...