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Frederic Henry, a volunteer American ambulance driver, serves in Italy during World War I. Whilst abroad, he meets British nurse Catherine Barkley and becomes attracted to her. He gets a chance to consummate his attraction to her after being wounded at the front and shipped back to hospital. By the end of the summer, Catherine is three months pregnant. Once healed, Frederic returns to the front just in time for it to collapse and the Austro-Hungarians to come pouring through; he, like the other officers, are rounded up by the "battle police" and executed for the defeat. Frederic escapes through some quick Bad Assery and reunites with Catherine, whereupon the two escape to Switzerland in a rowboat. There they maintain an isolated but idyllic existence until Catherine goes into labor. The baby is stillborn. Catherine hemorrhages and dies. The end.
Hemingway was not a happy man.
Besides many characters being based on people the author knew, this novel is useful to Hemingway scholars as it provides the first incarnations of the famed Hemingway "code hero" (known to modern tropers as the Marty Stu, or perhaps the Broken Ace). Frederic Henry is The Stoic, relates to the world in a largely physical manner, he has trouble not being a Jerkass sometimes, and he suffers from a certain amount of Testosterone Poisoning in that his thoughts revolve around girls and drink. Main Characters in Hemingway novels would continue in this vein throughout most of his body of work.
The novel is considered one of the great classics of American fiction, and chances are that if you attended an American high school, you read it there. (This just highlights one of the downsides of Hemingway's "iceberg theory" of fiction: it relies on Subtext, which, depending on your age and/or maturity level, you might not get.)
Provides Examples Of:
- Alcohol Is Poison: discussed.
- Beige Prose: Hemingway's Signature Style. (Tropes Are Not Bad.)
- Checkpoint Charlie
- Crapsack World
- A Date with Rosie Palms
- Death by Childbirth
- Downer Ending
- Important Haircut
- Florence Nightingale Effect
- Shallow Love Interest
- Spot the Imposter: subverted.
- Too Happy to Live
- Train Escape
- War Is Hell