The work presented by Ernest Hemingway was one of enormous magnitude. On the outside the work is presented as a simple story of war and love and the details that go along with the storyline. The simplistic manner in which the story is unfolded is obviously an attempt to force the reader to read between the lines. By leaving the emotions and the motivations for the reader to interpret, Hemingway is forcing the reader to try and relate to the characters. I found this to be a very effective tool in constructing an interesting novel.
From my personal thoughts and feelings while reading the novel my interpretation is that Hemingway is suggesting a view of human nature that is very scenical. For every small positive thing that occurs in the characters life there is some terrible thing that happens, nullifying the happiness. This forces the characters to search for some other small aspect of happiness to keep them content. I am going to concentrate on the struggle of the characters search for something positive in a world that seems set on making them miserable.
I would like to also outline the various obstacles that present themselves in the story that cause the characters to have such a pessimistic outlook on life. The story begins with a very descriptive overview of the Lieutenant’s surroundings during his duty during WWII. It becomes obvious early on in the story that Rubish 2 he is very restless with his life. Many things seem to irritate him about his circumstances in general. The treatment of the priest by the other officers bothers him. Also the fact that many of the other men seem to be content with drinking and going to the local whorehouse.
He takes a leave of absence during this time and his problems are compounded by the emptiness he finds. His nights of sex and drinking leave him very unfulfilled. It is after his return that he meets Catherine a nurse at the soldiers hospital. It seems that he is so used to shallow things that he treats her with the same coyness that he uses to handle most of his relations. But eventually the emptiness of his life along with the dedication of Catherine to him bring him to realize that he can actually accomplish something worthwhile.
So after some careful consideration he gives his commitment to be hers. This is one of the fleeting moments of happiness that Hemingway portrays in his novel. The faint glimmer of a happy ending leads us simply to encounter the next cruel tragedy that life will throw at the characters. His happiness is short lived as he is waiting at the front for his next opportunity to visit Catherine he is hit with a mortar and wounded. Early on in the story we are beginning to realize that there is no set pattern to the story, anything can happen at anytime, just as in life.
Along with the tragedy of his being wounded there is also a small glimmer of hope that he will be reunited with Catherine at the hospital. This eventually works itself out to be true, and the reader is back on his way with an optimistic view of the plot. The characters have a fairly pleasant time during the days at the hospital. They are far away from the front and they grow even closer during this time. At the same time there is a large amount of tension because the war is still looming over them. They try at this point to give everything a plan, some kind of a structure that they can work with.
This is their feeble attempt at trying to control their lives. The next major part of the novel is the return to the front, this is a miserable separation for the two. Lieutenant Henry is at the front lines of the war and he has to worry about Catherine being pregnant. Also the fact that he doesn’t know when he will get to see her again weighs heavy on his mind. Things begin to go bad for the Italian army and a retreat is called. Everyone is praying that this will mean the end of the war. The soldiers are all tired of the war which is pointless in their opinion.
Everyone seems to be in higher spirits than would be expected from a large defeat. The massive convoy of the retreat is portrayed as a good thing. This causes us once again to have hope for the two lovers. During the retreat the Lieutenant and his men get separated from the convoy. This puts them in a dangerous situation because now they are vulnerable to the German who are slowly filtering in around them. Once again we develope a sense that another roadblock is going to present itself. The foreshadowing of the author is very subtle but it is there nonetheless.
I think he is dependent on our natural assumptions of a situation to do much of his work for him. By letting the readers emotion and imagination take control he can illustrate his points much stronger. The madness that has been caused by the retreat causes the Italians to go crazy. they are so scared of enemy infiltration that they are shooting everyone that seems suspect. This puts the Lieutenant in a bad situation, either try to escape or be killed. He does what he has to and makes a run for it. This is the part that I found to be an interesting transition in the story.
Up until the big escape the story was focused on the war with the love in the background. After the escape through the river and on the train ride the Lieutenant is reunited with Catherine. After this the book focuses almost totally on their love and puts the war into the background. Being now a fugitive from the Italian army they decide they must escape to Sweden. Escape is the only way that they can be together. By this point they are beginning to see that that the only thing that really holds their world together is their love for each other. They are determined to keep that no matter what they have to do.
Once they reach Sweden they settle down for the winter in an isolated chateau in the mountains. This part of the story is concentrated solely on their love for each other and their relaxing times together without the worries of the war to interfere. This gives a strong sense of happiness which in the end will aid in the emphasis of the tragedy. The ending is like a double slap in the face, Lieutenant Henry is hoping for the best. His concern is with Catherine first and the baby second. When she goes into labor he is not overly concerned. He takes time to have a few drinks and read a paper.
The first tragedy he has to face is the loss of the child. He seems willing to accept this since Catherine is still alive. Once the doctors tell him she will be alright he begins to have hope for the future. Then Catherine dies from a hemorrhage , She dies apologizing to him for causing him grief and not being able to be with him. Then the Lieutenant is left in a cold dreary foreign country to reflect his tragic losses alone. With a new understanding that life is only a giant cruel punishment with only forced moments of joy here and there to prolong the suffering.