Finding Truth in Lies in A Farewell to Arms The foundation of Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms is based on lies. Hemingway exposes the reality, or truth, of love and war by presenting the story of Lieutenant Henry and Catherine Barkley, lives ironically entrenched in lies. Henry in particular assumes a different role at every turn, pretending, for example, to be a soldier, a civilian, a doctor or Barkley’s dead fiance.
The lies in Henry’s life begin when he joins the Italian army. Here, he pretends to be “one of the guys,” silently siding with their bawdy humor and macho activities and not the morality of the priest. Hemingway best displays this conflict in the scene where the priest urges Henry to visit Abruzzi while the captain insists Henry visit Naples’ whorehouses. Henry says nothing during this conversation. However, his silence shows Henry does side with the priest. Ultimately, Henry joins the captain at the bordello, the equivalent of conceding to peer pressure. The soldiers traditionally see sexual conquests as a prerequisite for the lifestyle of war and violence, and by following this precedent, Henry plays along with this stereotype even though he would rather be in the comfort of Capracotta, welcomed by the priest’s family.
Just as Henry pretends to be a soldier, he later pretends to be a civilian. When mistaken for a spy during the retreat, Henry escapes but hides his identity as a soldier as not to be recognized and punished as a deserter. A proprietor of a wine shop warns Henry “Do not go out with that coat. … On the sleeves it shows very plainly where the stars have been cut away” (Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms, 239). Henry has made an effort to veil his rank and avoid capture. Later, …
… room,” Henry changes his mind (318). Now that Henry plays the role of a doctor, if the doctor can eat, so can he: “At two o’clock I went out and had lunch” (318). Henry even goes so far as to say he looks “like a fake doctor with a beard” and begins giving orders to the nurse when the real doctor is absent such as “get another cylinder” (319, 322). Henry pretends to be a doctor, thrown into this role by the situation and playing it very convincingly.
After reading this novel, I still do not have a true understanding of the character of Henry. He plays so many different roles, I do not know whether to view him as an authentic lost soul or the ultimate con man. Every aspect of his life is a great game of “let’s pretend” – when do the lies stop?
Hemingway, Ernest. A Farewell to Arms. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995.