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.

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He also analyzes the idyllic world introduced early in the
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 inezces 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 underezd
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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