A Farewell to Arms


You might be hearing a chorus of farewells if you recommend A Farewell to Arms as the next read for your Fabulously Feisty Feminist Book Club.

American LiteratureAll American Literature
Early 20th-Century American Literature
AuthorHemingway - Ernest Hemingway
FormNovel
LanguageEnglish Language
LiteratureAmerican Literature
Early 20th-Century Literature
ThemesCourage
Drugs and Alcohol
Foreignness and 'The Other'
Language and Communication
Love
Men and Masculinity
Power
War and Warfare
Warfare
Women and Femininity

Transcript

00:28

depiction of Catherine a bit… sexist? Let’s start with a quick summary of the

00:38

plot…

00:40

Frederic Henry is doing his part to help the Italians during the war when he meets Catherine

00:44

Barkley.

00:48

It's lust at first sight. After Frederic catches a mortar shell in the knee, he's sent to recuperate

00:53

in Milan... and by recuperate, we mean continue his pursuit of Catherine.

00:59

By the time Frederic is healed enough to be cannon fodder again, he's in love with Catherine

01:05

and… oops! She's caught a severe case of… pregnancy.

01:11

Frederic and Catherine end up having to flee to Switzerland so the Italians don't kill

01:15

him, and while you think it'd be all sipping hot cocoa and yodeling…

01:20

…Catherine goes into labor and dies, and the baby dies, and Frederic is left with nothing

01:27

but a bum knee. Many critics think Hemingway was something

01:32

of a misogynist, both in real life and in his writing.

01:39

Catherine isn't the only female character created by Hemingway who, while central to

01:43

the plot of a story…

01:45

…never gets to share her viewpoint and never seems to do anything other than act as a device

01:53

to spur the male protagonist to action.

01:56

And let's face it: Catherine's death is awful. She undergoes the terrible pain of labor…

02:02

with no epidural!... only to lose her baby and then die herself.

02:09

Perhaps this was Hemingway's way of saying she…and all of his female characters…

02:15

were expendable. They enter the story, affect change in the lives of their men, and then

02:23

get booted off the stage. And then there's the dialogue. Oy.

02:31

Gentlemen, try getting your girlfriends to read some of Catherine's lines and see if

02:35

you don't get a slap in the face.

02:38

She pretty much says, on multiple occasions, that Frederic is the be-all and end-all of

02:44

her existence and she is nada without him. Of course, to Hemingway's credit, Catherine

02:54

is a more complicated character than he needed to make her.

02:59

Not only does she demonstrate that she's extraordinarily brave by traveling to a war zone in order

03:06

to care for the injured, but she is also independent and capable of taking care of herself.

03:15

Also, her views on marriage are pretty complex, and while she may tell Frederic that he's…

03:22

her religion and all she's got, she doesn't exist just to do her man’s bidding.

03:31

What do you think?

03:35

Was Hemingway super-duper-sexist?

03:38

Or does Catherine's independence make up for her abrupt exit?

03:43

Shmoop amongst yourselves.