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 Literature||All American Literature|
Early 20th-Century American Literature
|Author||Hemingway - Ernest Hemingway|
Early 20th-Century Literature
Drugs and Alcohol
Foreignness and 'The Other'
Language and Communication
Men and Masculinity
War and Warfare
Women and Femininity
depiction of Catherine a bit… sexist? Let’s start with a quick summary of the
Frederic Henry is doing his part to help the Italians during the war when he meets Catherine
It's lust at first sight. After Frederic catches a mortar shell in the knee, he's sent to recuperate
in Milan... and by recuperate, we mean continue his pursuit of Catherine.
By the time Frederic is healed enough to be cannon fodder again, he's in love with Catherine
and… oops! She's caught a severe case of… pregnancy.
Frederic and Catherine end up having to flee to Switzerland so the Italians don't kill
him, and while you think it'd be all sipping hot cocoa and yodeling…
…Catherine goes into labor and dies, and the baby dies, and Frederic is left with nothing
but a bum knee. Many critics think Hemingway was something
of a misogynist, both in real life and in his writing.
Catherine isn't the only female character created by Hemingway who, while central to
the plot of a story…
…never gets to share her viewpoint and never seems to do anything other than act as a device
to spur the male protagonist to action.
And let's face it: Catherine's death is awful. She undergoes the terrible pain of labor…
with no epidural!... only to lose her baby and then die herself.
Perhaps this was Hemingway's way of saying she…and all of his female characters…
were expendable. They enter the story, affect change in the lives of their men, and then
get booted off the stage. And then there's the dialogue. Oy.
Gentlemen, try getting your girlfriends to read some of Catherine's lines and see if
you don't get a slap in the face.
She pretty much says, on multiple occasions, that Frederic is the be-all and end-all of
her existence and she is nada without him. Of course, to Hemingway's credit, Catherine
is a more complicated character than he needed to make her.
Not only does she demonstrate that she's extraordinarily brave by traveling to a war zone in order
to care for the injured, but she is also independent and capable of taking care of herself.
Also, her views on marriage are pretty complex, and while she may tell Frederic that he's…
her religion and all she's got, she doesn't exist just to do her man’s bidding.
What do you think?
Was Hemingway super-duper-sexist?
Or does Catherine's independence make up for her abrupt exit?
Shmoop amongst yourselves.