In Bonnie Akkerman’s reading questions for Book One in A Farewell to Arms, we were asked about the symbolism behind Hemingway’s use of rain. Two books later, we find that almost the entirety of Book Three is spent in the rain, ramping up as the characters face greater and greater danger, culminating in the near-drowning of Frederic himself.
“It rained all night. You knew it rained down that rained. Look at it. Christ, that my love were in my arms and I in my bed again. That my love Catherine. That my sweet love Catherine down might rain. Blow her again to me. Well, we were in it. Every one was caught in it and the small rain would not quiet it.”A Farewell to Arms pg. 172 (roughly halfway into Chapter 28)
Now that we have this expanded context, has your opinion on rain as a motif changed at all? What does the motif mean for Frederic after he secretly boards the train back home, and how does this compare or contrast with Catherine’s extreme reaction to the rain earlier in the novel? Does the river factor into this, and if so, how?
Frederic’s injury and the death of those around him in the beginning of the novel are the only time we’ve seen characters die by enemy hands so far. This early violence serves as a plot device to deliver Frederic to the hospital. In Book Three, in extreme contrast, all of the deaths are inflicted by friendly fire – either by accident (as may be the case with Aymo) or intentionally (as with Frederic’s slaying of the sergeant and the border guards’ slaying of the retreating officers).
“‘I order you to halt,’ I called. They went a little faster. I opened up my holster, took the pistol, aimed at the one who had talked the most, and fired. I missed and they both started to run. I shot three times and dropped one. The other went through the hedge and was out of sight.”A Farewell to Arms pg. 177 (the beginning of Chapter 29)
“He made the sign of a cross. The officers spoke together. One wrote something on a pad of paper. ‘Abandoned his troops, ordered to be shot,’ he said. The carabinieri took the lieutenant-colonel to the river bank. He walked in the rain, an old man with his hat off, a carabinieri on either side. I did not watch them shoot but I heard the shots.”A Farewell to Arms pg. 192 (near the end of Chapter 30)
Why is Hemingway creating such a stark contrast between the forms of death in the novel? How do you compare Frederic’s violence with the border guards, and how do they justify it? Is there a difference?
With the introduction of the two sisters picked up in the convoy, we see the first civilian experience of the frontline. Their behavior is entirely unlike any other of the characters within the novel – where the servicemembers have accepted the war and are quite resigned, the sisters are fearful and quiet, especially towards the other men. Unlike the antisemitic horse race character, this does not appear to be a fruitless inclusion.
“‘Sorella?’ I asked and pointed at the other girl. She nodded her head and smiled. ‘All right,’ I said and patted her knee. I felt her stiffen away when I touched her. The sister never looked up. She looked perhaps a year younger. Aymo put his hand on the elder girl’s thigh and she pushed it away. He laughed at her. ‘Good man,’ he pointed to himself. ‘Good man,’ he pointed at me. ‘Don’t you worry.'”A Farewell to Arms pg. 170 (near the beginning of Chapter 28)
The two girls are only involved in the novel for a short time, but their presence leaves a lasting impact on the reader – why is that? What was Hemingway trying to portray with their inclusion, and how do they relate to the other civilians in the story? What are the class and gender ramifications between them and the servicemembers, especially with Frederic who as a male officer and American, holds considerable privilege?