A Farewell to Arms- analysis

A Farewell to Arms Analysis

John Stubbs' "Love and Role Playing in A Farewell to Arms"

John Stubbs' essay is an examination of the defense

which he believes Henry and Catherine use to protect

themselves from the discovery of their insignificance and

"powerlessness...in a world indifferent to their well

being..." He asserts that "role-playing" by the two main

characters, and several others in the book, is a way to

escape the realization of human mortality which is unveiled

by war. Stubbs thinks that Hemingway utilized role-playing

as a way to "explore the strengths and weaknesses of his two

characters." Stubbs says that by placing Henry's ordered

life in opposition to Catherine's topsy-turvy one, and then

letting each one assume a role which will bring them

closer together, Hemingway shows the pair's inability to

accept "the hard, gratuitous quality of life."

Stubbs begins by showing other examples, notably in In Our

Time and The Sun Also Rises, in which Hemingway's characters

revert to role-playing in order to escape or retreat from

their lives. The ability to create characters who play

roles, he says, either to "maintain self-esteem" or to

escape, is one Hemingway exploits extraordinarily well in A

Farewell to Arms and therefore it "is his richest and most

successful handling of human beings trying to come to terms

with their vulnerability."

As far as Stubbs is concerned, Hemingway is quite blatant in

letting us know that role-playing is what is occurring. He

tells that the role-playing begins during Henry and

Catherine's third encounter, when Catherine directly

dictates what is spoken by Henry. After this meeting the two

become increasingly comfortable with their roles and easily

adopt them whenever the other is nearby. This is apparent

also in that they can only successfully play their roles

when they are in private and any disturbance causes the

"game" to be disrupted. The intrusion of the outside world

in any form makes their role-playing impossible, as

evidenced at the race track in Milan, where they must be

alone. The people surrounding them make Catherine feel

uncomfortable and Henry has to take her away from the crowd.

He goes on to describe how it is impossible for them to play

the roles when they are apart and how they therefore become

more dependent upon each other's company.

Stubbs goes on to explain how, "neither mistakes

role-playing for a truly intimate relationship, but

both recognize that it can be a useful device for satisfying

certain emotional needs." He says that originally Henry and

Catherine are playing the "game" for different reasons but

eventually move to play it as a team. Henry is role-playing

to regain the sense of order he has lost when he realizes

the futility of the war and his lack of place in it.

Catherine is role-playing to deal with the loss of her

fiance and to try to find order in the arena of the war.

When they are able to role-play together, "the promise of

mutual support" is what becomes so important to them as they

try to cope with their individual human vulnerability.

He also analyzes thepl-PL" style="margin-bottom: 0in">story by the priest at the mess and later realized by Henry

and Catherine in Switzerland. They fall fully into their

roles when they row across the lake on their way to their

idealized world. The fact that they actually are able to

enter this make-believe world strengthens their "game" and

allows it to continue longer than it would have otherwise.

And once they are in this new world they adopt new roles

which allow them to continue their ruse. They also need to

work harder to maintain the "game" because far from the

front they are both still aware the war is proceeding and

they are no longer a part of it. The world in which they

exist in reality (!) is not conducive to role-playing

because it tries repeatedly to end their "game".

Stubbs manages to uncover numerous instances in which the

two are role-playing and he makes a very interesting case

that this is exactly what they are doing and not just his

imagination reading into the story. He does make certain

assumptions, that their love is not "real", that the

characters are searching for order, which are not completely

justified or even necessary to prove his point. He also

forces an intentionality upon Hemingway which could have

been avoided without harming his theory. Towards the end of

the essay Stubbs infers that their role-playing is "inferior

to true intimacy," which is a point that, although he

defends well, is not central to his theory and seems to

detract from his objectivity.

The essay is a valuable tool to help the reader understand

this view of what is happening through Henry and Catherine's

relationship and how they use each other to maintain their

self-images, provide themselves with psychological support,

and in a way escape the war. Hemingway may not have been

trying to purposely create a role-playing scenario, but

Stubbs' essay will benefit someone wishing to explore this

aspect of the relationship of the two main characters in

greater depth.


Bruccoli, Matthew J. and Clark, C.E. Frazer (ed.),

Fitzgerald / Hemingway Annual 1973, pp. 271-284, Microcard

Editions Books,

Washington, D.C., 1974

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