Chapter 5 and 6
We are going to analyze the representation of war in chapters 5 and 6 of A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway. In these chapters we will see that the idea that Frederick is an outsider is emphasized but this time with the others’ vision about him, and he will also be playing another role.
Chapter 5 opens with the narrator paying a visit to Catherine. At the hospital, he has a conversation with the “head nurse”, who tells him: “there is a war on, you know”. The sentence is really ironic and is used to remind him that it is a time of war. The expression “you know” could imply he has forgotten what war is, even if it is told ironically.
“You’re the American in the Italian army”: means Frederick is unique and seen as an outsider because it is as if he were the only American in the Italian army, the truth is that he is famous for his difference.
The head nurse continues and specifically asks why he, an American, joined the Italian army. His answer is unclear: he says that he “happened to be in Italy” and “spoke Italian”. This idea is that it can be only by chance or coincidence that he joined the Italian army. On his side, as he does not give a proper reason, we can see he has no real reason too.
On the one hand, the nurse’s words are harsh and violent, but on the other hand, what she says is not totally a reproach. Indeed, she continues the conversation talking about how she only spends her time learning the “beautiful” language that is Italian. They talk about Italy, the “beautiful language”, the “beautiful uniforms”, which also means she is not that overworked herself.
On page 22, we can notice that there is a lot of descriptions of the damages of the war. “There was what was left of a railway station and a smashed permanent bridge that could not be repaired and used”. There are “broken places”. We can say that Frederick now realizes what war has destroyed. However, his position of outsider is still confirmed in the sense that war is here something of the past, things have been destroyed but are not being destroyed any more. Likewise, the use of such phrases as “would start”, “could” and ‘was-to” are actually used in sentences that start with “if”. So, it means that what Frederick says is hypothetical, as if he talked about a “virtual war” or not a “real” war yet. War is either behind or ahead, it is never really here.
When Frederick goes into the trenches, as he was “visiting” them, it makes us think of a tourist, whereas a battlefield is not a beautiful place that is supposed to attract people. So, if he is a tourist, adding that to his “useless presence”, he should not be here. To continue with, when we read the surprising sentence “I had a drink with the captain and went back across the bridge”: there is no military reason of his visit: he went into the trenches just to drink, as it was more important than war. In fact, the passage shows us that he tries to keep himself busy, busy drinking.
In the same passage, he uses the words “the Italian lines”. The author could have written “our” or “we” but he wants to show that Frederick does not count himself as part of those “lines”. Frederick does think the Italian side is his side, as he should think. It could mean he feels quite neutral. But what is important is that he is not involved, or at least, he does not feel the necessity of being involved and patriotic.
In the same passage, we noticed the use of the three adjectives “quiet, hot, dirty” by Hemingway. They were not picked without a reason. In fact, they are the opposite meaning of “clear, cold and dry”. It could mean that he feels and experiences for the first time the atmosphere of war, he explicitly states what we understood a few pages before: war is not something clean…
As he and some carabinieri are being bombarded without any of them being hit, the narrator insists on describing what he sees, hears and smells as if the sensory aspect of events was more important to him than danger or strategic matters, as if war was no more than some experience of the senses. Again his detachment is perceptible. The fact no one is injured installs an idea of impossibility in a time where casualties are not counted anymore. Death had to happen now but does not occur: it does not kill him. This fact can be taken to make the situation almost funny, which links to the “funny life” that Rinaldi thinks he is living. It is completely absurd because unprotected, they don’t get hit whereas they will get hit despite the protection of the dugout in chapter 9. Again, everything is reversed.
Now, let’s focus on the “narrow road”. As there was only one, it refers to the road of his life, as if he had a ready-made path and only one direction, no other possibility than following his destiny. Theoretically, it conveys the idea that he is made to be an outsider in this war and not be in a useful place: that is his destiny. Hemingway might be denouncing that not everyone was heroic in the war.
This can be linked to the expression “funny life” which is not quite what we would have said about his life. Indeed, there is the war but it doesn’t seem to affect him. So, Frederick feels like a tourist, talks about the damages with the word “nasty place”, and about pleasure with “funny life”. These words don’t feel appropriate to the real situation. Everything seems irrelevant and the contrary of what should be intended. However, this only road could also be the cause of the “mess” page 22. Or else, it is an ominous sign that death is the only outcome.
That same evening, Henry returns and meets Catherine. They discuss her nursing duties, until the sentence “let’s drop the war” appears. In this war context, the verb “drop” appears completely inappropriate. It is too light and seems easy to say: it implies that you drop the war or you just leave it. It makes the reader visualize an object falling, for example, a bomb in this war context. The irony is that if they had not dropped the war, their romance would have never existed and Frederick would have never been shattered by her death, the way she had been shattered by her fiancé’s death after he was “blown to bits” when another “bomb” was “dropped” on him. They agree not to talk about it. They could be trying to create a world of their own, apart from the horrors of war: maybe because they want to clear their minds and think about a different topic, but ironically again, it is not the war that will “kill” them – at least morally for Frederick- but their attempts at dropping it.
Furthermore, Catherine answers: “it’s very hard”, where we can see she can’t forget what happened to her fiancé. There is a difference of knowledge and perspective about war between Catherine, who already experienced the war at least emotionally and can’t forget it, and Frederick’s inexperienced perspective.
As we already mentioned previously, Henry calls his life “funny” which is not the word which first comes to mind. Indeed he is a soldier in the Italian army: his life should be repetitive, horrible, sad: everything but not funny. It could mean that he doesn’t know what his life is.
A different perspective on war can be found in chapter 6.
First, the chapter begins with a description of the hospital, which evokes death through war. The hospital is described like a cemetery. As soon as he comes in he sees “marble busts”, and actually, it reminds him of graves. The idea could cast a shadow on the story and foretell the end of the book, when he compares Catherine to a statue.
Frederick then admits that he “wore a real gas mask and felt like a gunman”, add that to the “ridiculous short barrel” he holds. Everything is fine, until he practices with it: he feels ashamed, lost, and does not know where he belongs anymore.
In fact, the “real masks” and the “uncomfortable” and “too bloody theatrical helmets” evoke theatre and acting. So the actor is actually Frederick. What the author is trying to say here is that when you act, you are not yourself, you play a role. Indeed, the “masks” and the “helmets” are seen as accessories, not real ones, and the clothes can only be seen as costumes. This idea is also linked to the war described as a “show” in chapter one. Now we can see how Frederick plays a role, and why indeed, he is an outsider.
The words “real gas mask” are used here as if the previous ones were false, and also as if he was surprised they were real, given that everything else gives him a sense of “false soldiering”. Frederick is ashamed of wearing an Italian gun in front of the English people. He is not involved as a true actor but still acts. In reality, this war is not a good play and Frederick is a bad actor. He is not a good actor in his love life with Miss Barkley, and not a good actor as well in the war.
Rinaldi, is also an actor. At the same moment indeed, he “carried a holster stuffed with toilet paper”. Thus, there is no real difference between the two bad actors that are Frederick and Rinaldi. Indeed, no difference can be found between a fake gun and a gun that you can’t use: both are useless. Unfortunately, when you are not a good actor, shame increases, and you want to be somewhere else, just like Frederick. That’s how we understand that he is “uncomfortable” and feels “ridiculous”.
After that, the couple plays "a rotten game." Catherine understands that they are using each other to escape the war in their own way: Frederick through love and women, Catherine, by pretending to find a replacement for her lost love. So far, both love and war can be seen as some Italian “comedia del arte”.
In conclusion, we can observe an evolution of the representation of war between chapter 5 and chapter 6 and the beginning of the book. Indeed, in chapter 5 we can see that Frederick still can’t see – on only retrospectively and virtually - what war can do and can destroy. However, in chapter 6, his vision has changed, he seems to know more about what is war and death but still keeps his position of outsider. Finally, in chapter 5 he is not quite involved in the war whereas in chapter 6 he has a role, he is an actor in a play even if he is not a good actor.
Fara, with Nina, Manon & Matahari.