Essay on Catherine as Code Hero in Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms

Catherine as “Code Hero” in A Farewell to Arms

In the last book of A Farewell to Arms, when the pregnant Catherine Barkley is having painful contractions, Frederic Henry, the narrator and protagonist of the novel, reminds his “wife” that she is “a brave good girl” (FTA 313). A day later, after undergoing a caesarian section and giving birth to a stillborn baby boy, Catherine proves just how brave she is; though she knows she is dying, she still has the dignity and strength to accept such a fate. In fact, she finds herself in the (unfair) position of trying to comfort her distraught lover. With death approaching, Catherine’s candor is remarkable since her final words to Frederic suggest she possesses some sense or understanding of her own mortality and of what is soon to come: “I’m not a bit afraid. It’s just a dirty trick” (FTA 331). The “it” Catherine refers to is presumably death, but, in fact, the indefinite may be referring to life, a process Catherine views as a “rotten game” (FTA 31), since so much about it is left to chance and death is always the end. Such an insight advanced by Catherine is not at all unusual, for, from the time she and Frederic first fall into love and up until the time of her death, Catherine repeatedly reveals her inherent heroic qualities, especially in the way she reflects the Hemingway “code hero” criterion of “grace under pressure.”

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Yet critics have repeatedly misunderstood Catherine since the time of the novel’s publication some seventy years ago. Those engaging in distinctly feminist analyses over the past twenty-five years have been particularly harsh on Hemingway’s characterization of Catherine, viewing it as patronizing and shallow. In her response to the phallocentri…

…s by Ernest Hemingway.

The New York Times 29 Sept. 1929: 5.

Lewis, Robert W. “A Farewell to Arms”: The War of the Words. New York: Twayne, 1992.

Lynn, Kenneth. Hemingway. New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1987.

Nagel, James. “Catherine Barkley and Retrospective Narration.” Critical Essays on Ernest Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms.”

Ed. George Monteiro. New York: Hall, 1994. 161-74.

Spannier, Sandra Whipple. “Catherine Barkley and the Hemingway Code: Ritual and Survival in A Farewell to Arms.”

Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1987. 131-48.

Spofford, William K. “Beyond the Feminist Perspective: Love in A Farewell to Arms.” Fitzgerald/Hemingway Annual 1978.

Eds. Matthew J. Bruccoli and Richard Layman. Detroit: Gale Research, 1979. 307-12.

Young, Philip. Ernest Hemingway: A Reconsideration. Rev. ed. New York: Harcourt, 1966.

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