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A Farewell to Arms

A Farewell to Arms

by Ernest Hemingway

Analysis: Plot Analysis

Most good stories start with a fundamental list of ingredients: the initial situation, conflict, complication, climax, suspense, denouement, and conclusion. Great writers sometimes shake up the recipe and add some spice.

Initial Situation

Who is this guy?

We don’t even know the narrator’s name until after he gets wounded. And the people around him are as puzzled as we are about what an American is doing driving Red Cross ambulances for the Italian army. The facts trickle out over many chapters, and the initial situation is one of getting to know Frederic Henry.

Conflict

Love and war are a dangerous combination.

When Catherine and Frederic meet, she falls in love instantly, but he thinks that love is the last thing he needs. Anybody can die at any moment, but, in the middle of a war, death weighs heavy on the scales of chance. So who wants to fall in love?

Complication

Pregnancy and an empty bear bottle.

That’s right: we said "bear," not beer. Catherine is pregnant and Frederic has to go back to the front in three weeks. In the meantime, they plan a little vacation. Unfortunately, Miss Van Campen thinks that a liquor bottle shaped like a bear is evidence that his jaundice is self-inflicted. When he defends himself by talking about his "groin," he gets his butt sent immediately back to the front, not knowing if he will ever see Catherine again.

Climax

"I feel like a criminal. I’ve deserted from the army" (34.114).

After you swim across the river to get to the woman you love, climax is ensured! At least in A Farewell to Arms. And Frederic was forced into deserting anyway. He held on as long as he could, but it was either swim or die, and he chose to swim.

Suspense

"Please, please, please, dear God, don’t let her die. […]God please make her not die. I’ll do anything you say if you don’t let her die" (41.249).

And that, dear friends, is suspense. Everything is so nice for them in Switzerland until Catherine goes into labor. Suspense over whether the baby will die, and whether the baby is dead, just warm us up for the suspense Frederic is feeling in the lines we quote above.

Denouement

Trying to figure out how to say good-bye.

The baby is dead. Catherine is dead. And that’s the only thing clear. Frederic tries, but he can’t say good-by and have it feel like anything.

Conclusion

Alone in the rain.

Such a lonely conclusion. Frederic can evade death, but he can’t help Catherine do it. And, at the end, he is all alone in the rain.

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