No Happy Ending in A Farewell to Arms
Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms is a tragic story of love and war. There has been a great deal of controversy over the ending of the novel in which Catherine Barkley died from massive hemorrhaging following an unsuccessful Caesarean operation. While such a horrific event to end a novel may not be popular, it is the soundest ending that Hemingway could have written. A Farewell to Arms is a war novel and Catherine's death brings a conclusion that is consistent with the theme and context of the novel. The novel was written with a war wrought cynicism that is reflected in the attitude of Lieutenant Frederick Henry as the war changes the way he looks at life. As the war continued at the end of the novel, there was no place for a happy ending with Frederick and Catherine.
There are many instances throughout the novel that foreshadow Catherine's death. In a conversation between Frederick and Nurse Ferguson, Frederick said of his relationship with Catherine: "`We don't fight'" and Nurse Ferguson replied: "`You'll die then. Fight or die. That's what people do" (108). Although Ferguson was speaking skeptically about the chance of Frederick and Catherine remaining happily in love and ever getting married, she did predict a tragic outcome that somewhat ironically is exactly what happens to Catherine.
Just before Frederick left to go back to the front, he and Catherine went to a hotel together. During a quite time in the hotel room Frederick recited from a poem by Marvell:
"``But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near''" (154).
This allusion to death reflects Frederick's worries about going back to the front. It is interesting that he should quote these lines to Catherine. Without specifically alluding to her death at the end, Hemingway expresses the rather ominous sentiment created by the war that death may come at any time.
One passage in particular captures much of the theme of the novel and greatly foreshadows Catherine death:
"If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the...