Study Guide

A Farewell to Arms Language and Communication

By Ernest Hemingway

Language and Communication

Chapter 2

"Priest every night five against one." (2.14)

The captain has made an extremely condensed statement. The metaphor is played out long over the course of their conversation, leaving no doubt that the captain is both suggesting that the priest five fingers are battling his penis, but also suggests that the priest is a fraud and has five girls at once. When we think of the priest as a receiver of confessions, it takes on a deeper significance. The captain suggests that the priest’s hand and the priest’s penis are engaged in the battle of confession of sexual desire.

Chapter 5

"You have the pleasant air of a dog in heat."

I did not understand the word. […] He explained. (5.76)

In the reality of Frederic’s memory, conversations are being conducted in a variety of languages, what we get in English is often "translated" from another language. Maybe Hemingway was thinking in Italian when he wrote some of the novel.

Catherine Barkley

"Let’s drop the war."

"There’s no place to drop it."

"Let’s drop it anyway." (5.43-45)

We think this early exchange says much about why Catherine and Frederic get along so well. They are on the same wavelength. On the surface, it’s playful banter, but it expresses their respective and shared feelings about the war. There is a debate going on, and a give and take of information as they test the waters.

Chapter 9

The drops fell very slowly, as they fall from an icicle after the sun has gone. (9.186)

This passage gives us the chills because it creates an image which is both beautiful and terrible. On the one hand, we have an image of an icicle dripping in the night, and we also picture a pretty sunset, since he talks about the sun going "down." And, we picture what Frederic can’t see, but can only imagine. A man bleeding to death. We see the red blood against the white ambulance sheet. Very condensed communication.

Chapter 11

"I stay too long and talk too much."

"No. Don’t go." (11.87-88)

Part of why the priest wants to leave is because, at points in the conversation, the confessor-confesee relationship was reversed and the priest was confessing to Frederic. He feels guilty and doesn’t want it to go on. Priests have to confess to other priests. In those moments of reversal, Frederic is priestly.

Book 2, Chapter 13

"I don’t know what to do. […] I can’t read Italian. […]" She commenced to cry […]. (13.26)

We’ve all felt this way. We can’t communicate. We can’t understand what’s going on. We feel like failures and we start to cry.

Chapter 21

"But people do. They love each other and they misunderstand on purpose and they fight and then suddenly they aren’t the same one." (21.80)

This makes us wonder who Catherine has been fighting with in her life. She knows an awful lot about the pitfalls of bad communication. Moments like this make us wonder if she’s older than Frederic. Her age is as ambiguous as his. She was engaged for eight years, but she qualifies it, saying she "grew up" with her fiancé. But growing up could mean a number of things, including losing virginities together.

Book 3, Chapter 25

"Oh yes. All my life I encounter sacred subjects. But very few with you. I suppose you must have them too." (25.85)

We see the truth of Rinaldi’s statement most acutely during the scenes with Catherine. Frederic does not reveal moments of physical intimacy. Those are private, and, as Rinaldi says, sacred to Frederic anyway.

Chapter 28
Frederic Henry

"I was having a dream in English," I said. (28.33)

This implies that Frederic sometimes dreams in other languages. Perhaps more important is the dream that he’s talking about. Frederic and Catherine’s bond is so tight that they can reach each other in dreams.

"No danger of ─," using the vulgar word. "No place for ─" (28.17)

We love how Frederic describes Aymo’s use of the "F" word, and there is no doubt what he means. When Frederic uses it himself a few lines later, it’s even funnier. We wonder if the editors or Hemingway chose not to put the actual word in. If it’s Hemingway, than we can assume that Frederic uses the word, but won’t use it when narrating this story for some reason.