True Love in A Farewell to Arms
At first look, Catherine Barkley, the woman from Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, appears to be an example of a dream girl. She emerges as a mindless character who asks nothing of her man and exists only to satisfy his needs. Therefore, it has been propounded that Catherine’s character is demeaning to women. By analyzing the actions of only one of the characters, however, the special relationship that exists between Frederic and Catherine is overlooked. If Catherine is Hemingway’s manner of demeaning women then one must also examine the manner in which Frederic is described, for he too is very dependent and dedicated to Catherine as she is to him. The mutual love between Frederic and Catherine degrades neither of the two; rather, it shows them together in a good light.
Catherine Barkley’s basic approach to her relationship with Frederic is one of a subordinate. She appears to gladly accept a subservient role in relation to Frederic. “I’ll do what you want and say what you want,” she tells him, “and then I’ll be a great success, won’t I”(105). Her idea of a successful relationship, and thus of happiness, is based on making Frederic happy no matter what she has to do. She changes her personality and way of life until she is not longer a person in her own right. “I want what you want,” she tells Frederic, “there isn’t any me any more. Just what you want”(106). She no longer views herself as an individual but rather as an extension of Frederic; her sole purpose is to accommodate him. “Is there anything I do you don’t like?” she inquires of Frederic in her quest to be perfect for him: “Can I do anything to please you?”(116). Catherine even goes so far as to declare that she and Fr…
…on one another allows them to be happy but they can no longer be happy alone.
The relationship between Frederic and Catherine has been criticized as being too romantic and too immature. It has been argued that through the extreme selflessness shown by Catherine, Hemingway aims to demean women. However, Frederic exhibits the same immaturity and selflessness as Catherine and the combination of the two in the story provides to build a special relationship. Their interdependency forms a strong bond through which both are able to be happy. The commitment to each other is mutual, causing each to lose their individual identities and become one with one-another. Instead of a degradation of women, the relationship between Catherine and Frederic represents an ideal for women and for men, one in which both are blissful and dependent on one another.