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When I finished FTA I was of course stunned by the
death of Catherine and the baby and Henry’s sudden
solitude. “What happens now?” I felt, as I so
often do when I finish a book that I want to go on
forever. This is infinitely more difficult with a
book that has no conclusion, and FTA leaves a
reader not only emotionally exhausted but also
just as alone as Henry and with nowhere to go. The
entire work was aware of where it was going and
what was going to happen next, and then to stop
the way it did was unfair. Now, I’ve read enough
essays while deciding which would be the topic for
my class presentation that I know many people see
that the unfairness of life and the insignificance
of our free will are apparently the most important
themes in the book, but I don’t agree. I also
don’t agree that it is a war story or a love

Exactly what it is, though, is not clear to
me. Can’t art exist without being anything? “There
isn’t always an explanation for everything.” War
and love are obviously important themes in the
book, and the relationship between the two is
explored by Hemingway and, somewhat, by Henry. In
the first two Books we are in the war and the war
is overwhelming. In the last two Books we are in
love. And, just as the first two Books are
peppered with love in the time of war, the last
two Books are tinged with war in the time of love.
The third Book is the bridge between the two
‘stories’ and it is not surprising that it centers
on the escape. It is during the escape that Henry
resolves that he is through with the war (a war in
which he really has no place) and decides that all
he wants is to be with Catherine.

Until the third
Book Henry doesn’t seem to be agonizingly
concerned with matters of right or wrong in the
war and it seems, in fact, separate from him. Even
when he is injured it doesn’t appear that he is
really a part of the war which surrounds him. He
maintains a distance from it and this distance
isn’t really closed until Aymo is killed by his
own army, he discovers that Bonello is only
staying with him out of respect, and he is almost
killed as a spy. After this he resolves to desert
the army and be reunited with his love, Catherine.
Henry is no dummy and he could easily tell that
everything was not all correct with Cat, which
leads to the question of his love for her. You
must admit that Cat is a bit…well… flaky when
they first meet.

She loses that persona soon
enough, although I couldn’t help but distrust her
integrity until somewhere in the middle of the
fourth Book. It is also difficult to believe
wholeheartedly in his love for her until much
later in their relationship, and it leaves me
wondering if he is leaving his involvement in the
war because of his unfailing love for Cat or if
Cat and any feelings he has for her are just
excuses to escape the insanity of the war he
experiences in the third Book. When he is with
Catherine, they are in another place, untouched by
the war, both symbolically (in the tent of her
hair) and literally (in Switzerland). [It seems
like I don’t ever say anything earth-shattering,
or even critical, in these response papers, and
I’m not sure if I’m supposed to do that. The line,
“The war seemed as far away as the football games
of some one else’s college,” is beautiful.]

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