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A Farewell to Arms – plot outline



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Frederic Henry is a young American ambulance driver serving in the Italian army during World War I. At the beginning of the novel, the war continues. And it’s wintertime. Henry decided to use his leave. He planned to spend it by touring Italy. The following spring, when he returned from his leave, Henry meets Catherine Barkley, an English nurse who Works at the nearby British hospital. Rinaldi who is Henry’s closest friend, made them meet. They met in the hospital which Catherine worked. He also met with Helen Ferguson who is also a nurse and Catherine’s best friend.

Before the meeting, Rinaldi told Henry that he loves Catherine. Rinaldi after introducing Henry and Catherine to each other he had a feeling that there could be a relation between Catherine and Henry.A few weeks later as Rinaldi feared a relationship had started between Henry and Catherine.Although, at first Henry wasn’t in love with Catherine, as time passed it didn’t take him too long to fall in love with Catherine. Then the war started again. And they were separated.

When Henry is injured on the battlefield, he is brought to a hospital in Milan to recover. Several doctors recommend that he should stay in bed for six months before having an operation on his knee. But he doesn’t want to wait so long. So as a solution he found a surgeon named Dr. Valentini who agrees to operate on him immediately. Henry learns happily that Catherine has been transferred to the hospital that he is staying. During the following months, his relationship with Catherine improves. It’s no longer a simple relationship, their love becomes powerful and real.

When Henry’s damaged leg has healed, the army gave him three weeks to return to the front. He tries to plan a trip with Catherine, who reveals to him that she is pregnant. The following day, Henry argued with Miss Van Campen. She caught him with empty bottles and accused him of trying to avoid his duty as a serviceman so she let him sent to the front as soon as possible. Because of this incident, Catherine and Henry had to fall apart for some time.

Henry travels to the front, where Italian forces are losing ground. Soon after Henry’s arrival, a bombardment begins. When word comes that German troops are breaking through the Italian lines, Henry arranged his team immediately to move onwards. They also took two frightened girls on their way. Henry and his drivers then had decided to take secondary roads, which they thought would be faster. When one of their vehicles bogs down in the mud, Henry ordered the two engineers to help in the effort to free the vehicle. When they refuse, he shot one of them.

The drivers continue in the other trucks until they got stuck again. They sent off the young girls and continue on foot toward Udine. As they continue, one of the drivers is shot by the easily frightened rear guard of the Italian army and died. Another driver tried to surrender himself, while Henry and the remaining driver found a farmhouse to hide. When they rejoin the retreating group the following day, chaos has broken out: German soldiers, angered by the Italian attack, picked commanding Italian officers executed them on sight. The battle military saw Henry, who, broke away and dived into the river. After swimming for a long distance, Henry continued travelling by train to Milan. He was thinking that he didn’t have to fight in the war anymore and dreaming of his return to Catherine.

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When he got to Milan. He went to the hospital to see Catherine. But he learned that she was sent to a hospital in Stresa. He decided to go to Stresa to be with Catherine. He was deserted of the army so he went to a friend of his and borrowed some civilian clothes from him to not to cause suspicion on the roads.

Henry reunited with Catherine in Stresa. Helen Ferguson was also there who is a friend of Catherine from the British Hospital in Gorizia. When Henry met her earlier at Gorizia she was happy with Catherine and Henry’s relationship. But after so long time because of her loneliness, she becomes paranoid about her friend’s safety and anxious about her own unhappiness. So she behaved badly to Henry.

They had stayed in Stresa for few days. Day by day it became dangerous for Henry to stay in Italy. From there, the two found a safe way to escape to Switzerland. They borrowed a boat from a friend of Henry and got to Switzerland by rowing all night. They settled happily in a lovely town called Montreux and agree to get the war away from themselves forever. Although Henry was sometimes felt guilty for abandoning the men on the front, the two succeeded in living a beautiful, peaceful life. When spring arrived, the couple moves to Lausanne so that they could be closer to the hospital because their child would bear soon. Early one morning, Catherine went into labour. Every hour that passed delivery became more painful and complicated. Catherine delivers a baby boy but he was born dead. But Catherine looks fine but after a few hours, she died of a hemorrhage. Henry stayed at her side until they took her away. Finally, he walked back to his hotel in the rain all alone.


Major Characters

Lieutenant Frederic Henry: He is the main character of this book. He is also the narrator. He is an American ambulance driver in the Italian army during World War I. The focus of the novel revolves around his love for Catherine Barkley as well as his position in the war. Henry is well-disciplined and friendly, he feels as if he has nothing to do with the war.

Catherine Barkley – She is also the main character of this book. Miss Catherine Barkley is Frederic Henry’s love interest in this novel. She is English and serving as an assistant nurse for the British hospitals in Italy. She originally joined because she was following her fiancee to war. He died a year before in France. Catherine loves Fred deeply. She is supportive when he leaves the Army and flees with him to Switzerland, carrying their unborn child. She is a loving, dedicated woman whose desire and capacity for a redemptive, otherworldly love makes her the inevitable victim of tragedy. Catherine is beautiful and possesses, perhaps, especially her hair is very beautiful.

Rinaldi – He is a surgeon in the Italian army. Rinaldi is Henry’s closest friend. They are also roommates. Rinaldi is an unbelievable womanizer, professing to be in love with Catherine at the beginning of the novel but claiming soon thereafter to be relieved that he is not. Where the priest is concerned with higher values, Rinaldi prefers immediate pleasures.

Helen Ferguson – She is also a nurse who works at the American hospital and a dear friend of Catherine. At first, she is fine with Catherine and Henry’s relationship, after a long time because of her unhappiness she becomes paranoid about her friend’s safety and anxious about her own loneliness and started to disapprove of the love affair between Henry and Catherine strongly. But ultimately chooses to help the lovers. She helped them because o her loyalty to her friend.

Minor Characters

The priest – A kind, sweet, young man who provides spiritual guidance to the few soldiers interested in it. Often the officers make jokes about him. But the priest responds with good-natured understanding. Herry and he have a good friendship. They generally discuss the events that taking place in the war. The priest often serves as a counsellor to Henry, explaining to him the difference between love and lust as well as the futility of the war. Despite having faith, the priest is a respectable character in the novel.

Captain: This is one of the captains at Gorizia. He is the chief taunter of the priest and disappears by the end of the novel.

Rocca: A soldier who jokes about the priest.

Manera: Fred’s driver who is killed in the explosion that wounds Fred.

Passini: One of Fred’s drivers before he is wounded. Passini is very much against the war and thinks that everyone should stop fighting.

Gino: He is an Italian soldier who Fred relieves when he arrives at Bainsizza.

Bonello: Bonello is another one of Fred’s drivers in the retreat from Gorizia. He finishes off one of the engineers, who in an attempt to desert, is shot by Fred. After the death of Aymo, he leaves Fred and Piani to be captured because he thinks he is more likely to survive this way.

Piani: Another of Fred’s drivers in the retreat from Gorizia. He is the driver who stays with Fred until he jumps into the river.

Aymo: Aymo is one of Fred’s drivers during the retreat from Gorizia. His truck is the first to get stuck. As they try and cross a river, and just before he is killed, Aymo admits to Fred that they are all Socialists.

Miss Gage – She is an American nurse who helps Henry through his recovery at the hospital in Milan. Miss Gage becomes a friend to Henry. They drink and make gossip in the hospital. When Fred first sees her, he thinks she is pretty, but he later changes his mind. She often has drinks with Fred and tries to help him hide his drinking from Miss Van Campen.

Miss Van Campen – She is an annoying nurse at the American hospital in which Catherine works. Miss Van Campen is strict, cold, and unpleasant. She disapproves of Henry and remains on cool terms with him throughout his stay.

Miss Walker: The second nurse Fred sees during his stay at Milan. Miss Walker is an older nurse.

Dr. Valentini – An Italian surgeon who comes to the American hospital to contradict the hospital’s opinion that Henry must wait six months before having an operation on his leg. In agreeing to perform surgery the next morning, Dr. Valentini displays the kind of self-assurance and confidence that Henry celebrates.

Ralph Simmons – An opera student of dubious talent. Simmons is the first person that Henry goes to see after he got out of the battle. Simmons is a generous friend. He proves this by giving Henry civilian clothes so that he can travel to Stress without causing suspicion.

Emilio The bartender, named Emilio, is their friend in Stresa. It is from Emilio that Fred learns where to find Catherine. Fred goes fishing with Emilio. Emilio warns Fred that he is going to be arrested in the morning and he helps them escape, giving them his boat to use to get to Switzerland.

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Ettore Moretti: An Italian captain Fred knows and talks to in a bar. He is a genuine hero who has won many medals, but Catherine doesn’t like him because he brags. Fred admires him to a certain extent.

Mrs. Guttingen: The woman from whom Catherine and Fred rent a place to stay in Montreux over the winter.

Mr. Guttingen: Mrs. Guttingen’s husband.


Italy: This is where all the action of the novel takes place. Henry is in Italy at the beginning of the war and he joins the Italian army. Italy is allied with Britain and France (and later Serbia and Russia) against Austria and Germany.

World War One: (1913-1918) This was the first ‘modern war in that it saw the disintegration of ‘classical’ warfare tactics. Technological advances such as machine guns, airplanes, submarines and tanks led to the creation of trench warfare. World War I erupted from the series of events following the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in the Balkans. It quickly became a world conflict because of an intricate series of treaties and alliances that polarized the world. The United States joined the Allies late in the war. Germany was forced to pay grave reparations at the end of the war, as written in the Treaty of Versailles. Many scholars believe this may have been one of the largest contributing factors to World War II.

Gorizia: The city in which Henry is stationed throughout most of the book. He was at the front in world war I. And it’s also the city where he used to live.

San Gabriele: An Italian offensive that fails miserably.

Milan: The city in which the American hospital is located. This is where Henry spends his time after his injury.Also the place where Catherine and his relationships become serious.

Stresa: A Northern Italian town that very close to Switzerland. It’s the place which Henry went to see Catherine right after he gets away from the war.

Montreux: The Swiss city where Henry and Catherine spend their life waiting for their child to born.

Theme: Never give up your whole life for someone.Because when one day he or she leaves you will stay alone and without having anything to do.

Mood: The novel has a tragic and unhappy and desperate mood until the middle of the book because of the world war. But in the rest of the book although the war continues Henry and Catherine stay away from the war so there is a more exciting and happy mood until the tragic end.

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A Farewell to Arms - plot outline. (2021, Apr 28). Retrieved June 24, 2022, from