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Free Study Guide for A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

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The next morning, Henry left without waking Rinaldi and went to Bainsizza. He met Gino after climbing up a slope. Gino informed him that shelling went on nearby, but there were not many wounded soldiers just then. With the advent of the rains however, many soldiers would be falling sick. Some Croats and Magyars had joined the opposition, but the Italians were still in attacking positions. However, if the Austrians attacked there would be no safe place for them to go. Henry had expected Bainsizza to be flatter, more like a plateau, but it was broken up and ridged like a piano. Henry suggested that it was easier and more practical to hold a ridge that flattened out on top and had a little depth. Gino informed him that food was scarce; the battalions on the front line got as much food as they wanted but those at the back never got enough. Perhaps, the food meant for the soldiers was sold elsewhere. Gino said that it made a lot of difference to the war when soldiers starved. Henry admitted that he was always embarrassed by the words “sacred,” “glorious,” “sacrifice,” etc. Abstract words such as “glory,” “honor,” or “courage” were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments, and the dates. However, Gino was a patriot and refused to be convinced.

As the next day dawned, an attack and counterattack started. At three o’clock in the morning, the Croatians came over across the mountain meadow to the front line. They fought in the dark rain and a counterattack of scared men from the second line drove them back. There were several Italian soldiers wounded and they were brought on stretchers, were carried, and those who could, walked. They were all scared. Two ambulance cars were filled with the soldiers. The rain turned into snow. There was another unsuccessful attack at daylight.

Henry heard that the attack to the south had been unsuccessful. Though they did not attack that night, there were rumors that they had broken through the north and that there had been a great battle near Caporetto. When they heard that it was the Germans who were attacking, they were frightened because the Germans were tremendous fighters. Henry was never in a retreat and wanted to know what happened to the wounded when an army retreated. He was told by the medical officers that they took as many wounded as they could and left the rest behind. The hospital equipment was taken in the ambulances, not the wounded. The next night, the retreat started; it was orderly and wet. The Italian troops marched back, evacuating hospitals and transporting the wounded. Throughout, it was raining steadily and the army of the Bainsizza moved down off the plateau and across the river, where the great victories had begun in the spring of that year. They came into Gorizia in the middle of the next day. The town was nearly empty after the girls from the brothel left. Rinaldi had left along with others. Then, Henry got the cars cleaned, loaded them with hospital equipment, and after three hours of sleep, prepared to drive to Pordenone with three other drivers, Piani, Benello, and Aymo. They declared that they liked a retreat better than an advance.


This chapter is very important because it contains Henry’s anti-war statement. Abstract words like glory, honor, or courage seem obscene when compared to hard, concrete details of the number of villages destroyed and men killed. Soldiers are of two types: born patriots who have misplaced notions of the abstract words like “glory” and “honor” and do not care for the result of but are content just fighting; reluctant soldiers who see how futile wars can be no matter how grand the soldier’s intention might be. Despite Henry’s war apathy, it must be noted that he has joined the war; he could have left for America. Moreover, everything is not glorious and honorable in war as Henry realizes. Rations meant for soldiers are sold, probably on the black market. Wounded soldiers (who might have volunteered due to the abstract words mentioned above) are left behind to face a slow agonizing death or a quick, painful death in the hands of the advancing enemy. Though this might be a war exigency, it is still cruel.



The town of Gorizia looked deserted except for the long column of troops and guns moving through it. It was raining ceaselessly. Many trucks and carts were also moving along the main road. There was a block on the road and the traffic had stopped moving. Two engineers were sitting in the car beside Bovello. If Henry would let them, they could ride with them since they had been separated from their own unit. Henry gave his permission. In Aymo’s car were two girls who looked fiercely at anyone who came near them. They were crying and they said they were virgins. Aymo and the other men had to keep their distance from them because of it. A retreat was no place for two virgins who were probably very religious. He wondered what Catherine might be doing then. Probably she was asleep, even if she was uncomfortable with the advancing stage of pregnancy. Henry was extremely concerned for Catherine and he thought that he was going to have a son.

Their progress was often stalled because of more and more peasants joining the column of the retreat. The rate of progress in daylight was very slow, and Henry decided that they should find a side road or go cross-country if they ever hoped to reach Udine. The peasants had saved whatever they could--mirrors, sewing machines, chickens, and ducks--and had them piled up on the carts. Henry surveyed the place a little and found that a small road led off to the north between two fields with a hedge of trees on both sides. He informed Aymo, Piani, and Bonello of the plan. Aymo said that he couldn’t leave his “virgin family” behind. The virgins and the sergeants could come with them because, if the cars were stuck in the mud, they could push them. As they traveled on the side road, they saw a deserted farmhouse. They found some cheese, apples, and wine, which served as breakfast. Henry pointed out to the sergeant that an army traveled on its stomach, meaning they moved slowly. The sergeant countered that time was more precious. Then, they continued with their journey.


Henry does not consider the fact that the women may be lying about their virginity out of fear of being raped by him or the other soldiers because, as a soldier, rape is not a fear of his; it is not something he has to think about. Similarly, he assumes the Catherine is comfortable in her late pregnancy, not throwing up and miserable. Hemingway complained vehemently about Willa Cather writing about World War I in One of Ours, a novel which is much more graphic and anti-war than this, because she was a woman and did not know anything about war (her brother, who fought in the war, was the model for her protagonist); Cather responded to Hemingway that if he can write about pregnant women and childbirth, she can write about war.

The gloomy aspects of war are described nicely: a retreat is much better than advance. A note of pathos is struck when the peasants, leaving their homes behind, try to salvage, pathetically, little tidbits. War involves the displacement of normal people who are not directly connected to it.

Henry reveals a surprising side to his nature. He can make decisions, give orders, and see to it that they are implemented. He is an officer and a gentleman, and a friend to his subordinates. He is becoming the Hemingway hero, who is a gentleman among soldiers, but is also highly disrespectful of women.


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