The Progression of Love in A Farewell to Arms
There are two major themes in A Farewell to Arms that Hemingway clearly conveys: war and love. The war theme is obvious because the book is set during the World War. The theme of love is less obvious, it begins faintly because of the uncertainty between Frederick Henry and Catherine Barkley. Neither desire love or commitment to anyone, but act upon their desires of passion. As the story progresses, so does their love. The strength of their love is enforced by various understandings and agreements. Love is the theme that closes the book, leaving a final allusion of what their love is about.
When the two first meet, Catherine is still dealing with the death of her fiancé in battle. This presents her as a woman who knows the dangers and possibilities of war. As a nurse physically present during the war, she is rightfully not perceived as grieving and mortified by her fiancé¹s death. She did not marry him because he wanted to enlist in the war, ³I would have married him or anything ... But then he wanted to go to war and I didn¹t know² (Hemingway, 19). Typically, many women married their sweethearts in lure of the war. She goes onto say that she ³didn¹t know anything then,² but the fact that she did know that the war was not an excuse to get married presents her as perceptive and intellligent (19). The war alone could not justify her love for her life long friend and fiancé. This tragic event explains her confusing emotional behavior towards Henry at first.
Henry¹s failure to remember his appointment with Catherine because he was drunk shows that he did not regard Catherine too seriously. However, his surprising sorrow when she is unable to see him shows that he might be more vulnerable to falling in love than he suspects, ³when I could not see her I was feeling lonely and hollow² (41). At this point, Henry does not know anything of love. Throughout the whole First Book, Henry ignorantly disregards any possibility of love. ³I knew I did not love Catherine Barkley nor had any idea of loving her² (30). He willfully entered a relationship with Catherine, but did not have serious intentions with her, yet. To him it was just a ³game ... in which you said things² like ³I love you² (30). Henry casually speaks of this so-called love to Catherine, but her past experience with her fiancé have made her cautious when dealing with love. She knows the reality of love and the extent of Henry¹s feelings, ³You don¹t have to pretend you love me² (31).
Henry himself is puzzled by the concept of love and asks the priest for his interpretation of the subject. The priest explains to him that his present feelings are ³only passion and lust² (72). Therefore, Henry decides that if this is all he feels, then he could never love anyone. His misconception of love puts him at a disadvantage with Catherine. It isn¹t until after he is wounded, that he realizes that he is actually in love with...