Frederick Henry in A “Farewell to Arms”

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The most compelling character in A Farewell to Arms was Frederick Henry. The main conflict he faces is his inability to choose between Catharine or serving the military. Henry is almost constantly at a crossroads.

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He could be a peaceful, god loving man, like the priest, or have a pleasant disposition with an inclination to violence like Rinaldi. In the end, the only thing he worships is Catharine, and the only physically violent act he commits is killing the sergeant. He is a fully realized creation who is three dimensional and he feels real. He’s a deserter who drinks and lies, but he also wanted to do right by helping soldiers as an ambulance driver, and he almost never fights with Catharine. When he does finally fall in love with her for real, he feels guilty for treating her poorly, suddenly I felt lonely and empty. I had treated seeing Catherine very lightly, (Hemingway, 44). Her death only amplifies every slight he committed towards her.

A Farewell to Arms is written from a first person perspective. Frederick is an alcoholic, and heavily traumatized from both the war and the death of Catharine. This has the building blocks for an unreliable narrator, but as the book progresses Frederick admits to lying, and it allows the reader to trust him more. I had not killed any but I was anxious to pleaseand I said I had killed plenty, (Hemingway, 101). He even admits to things he thinks are shameful, like resenting the baby Catharine was pregnant with. The mood and tone swing wildly from Frederick’s despair, to domesticity with Catharine, and back to despair again. The use of weather to dictate the mood in a scene has the reader on edge whenever rain is mentioned, and lulled into a false sense of security whenever it snows.

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