A Farewell to Arms

A Farewell to Arms Summary and Analysis of Book Two, Chapters XIII-XVIII

Book Two: Chapter XIII:

Henry arrives in Milan and, after some difficulty with the stretcher, is taken to the American hospital. After some bureaucratic difficulty with an elderly nurse, he gets a room and goes to sleep. When he wakes, he rings the bell and gets a young, pretty nurse, Miss Gage, who washes him and makes friendly small talk. She does not know of Catherine. Later, Miss Van Campen, the somewhat mean superintendent, comes in, asks Henry several questions, and forbids him from drinking wine. Miss Gage tells Henry the doctor will be arriving soon from his clinic in Lake Como.

Henry sends the porter for some vermouth, wine, and newspapers. He reads war news, then hides the vermouth when Miss Gage comes in, as he is not supposed to drink. Miss Gage brings him his dinner; she says Miss Van Campen has allowed some sherry in his eggnog. He goes to sleep, waking once sweaty and scared, then sleeps again until morning, when he sleeps again.


The bumbling transition into the hospital - foul-ups with Henry's stretcher and with securing a room - reduces whatever honor there is in Henry's injury. Not only is the war chaotic, but so is the homeland action.

Again, Hemingway's style of omission makes Henry's emotional life more resonant. He does not tell us what his nightmare is about, but we understand implicitly that it is related to his recent injury.

Book Two: Chapter XIV:

Henry wakes in the morning. He rings for Miss Gage and asks for a barber. She says she found his vermouth that morning, and says she would have had some with him. She also tells him Catherine has arrived. She sends for the porter, who shaves Henry but refuses to discuss the war as he thinks Henry is an enemy Austrian officer.

Catherine comes to Henry's room. Henry thinks she looks beautiful and feels he is in love with her. He kisses her and begs her to stay on at the hospital. Later, Henry convinces Catherine to have sex with him for the first time. She says they will have to be careful in front of others. After she leaves, Henry feels wonderful. He learns the doctor will come that afternoon.


Hemingway again uses omission to good effect when he shows, purely through dialogue, how Henry convinces Catherine to have sex with him. What seems like a throwaway, somewhat humorous line - after Catherine tells Henry to "'Feel our hearts beating,'" his bald statement "'I don't care about our hearts. I want you'" - has unintended significance. Henry does feel he loves Catherine, but he has maintained previously, as to the priest, that he does not love anyone. Whether he and Catherine can forge a meaningful love in spite of war - or possibly as a reaction to the horror of war - is the main conflict in their relationship.

Although water is generally used to signify a kind of destructive fertility that ultimately leads to death, here and elsewhere Henry undergoes symbolic baptisms through water that renew. He is washed by Miss Gage to start his reentry into civilization. However, soon after the barber lathers him with water to shave him, and Henry learns the barber might have cut Henry since he thought he was Austrian. No matter what, water is tinged with death.

Book Two: Chapter XV:

In the afternoon, the doctor tends to Henry's leg and arranges for Henry to take an X-ray with another doctor. Later, three doctors come into Henry's room consult with each other and remove the dressing on Henry's leg. They project it will take six months until they can operate on his knee. Henry does not want to wait so long, and asks one of the doctors to get the opinion of another surgeon. The higher-ranking, fast-talking Dr. Valentini looks Henry over and says it can be operated on tomorrow.


Hemingway shows off his little-used talent for comedy and caricature in his descriptions of the incompetent doctors and the more competent Dr. Valentini. However, the humor masks the novel's bias towards more masculine, heroic characters. The "thin quiet little man" who first looks at Henry's knee passes him off to three doctors who cannot make any independent decisions, and they ultimately defer to the much more confident, lusty Dr. Valentini.

Book Two: Chapter XVI:

Catherine sleeps with Henry at night. They flirt in the morning and discuss his upcoming surgery. He tells her has never loved and made love to anyone but her, though she thinks he is lying. She thinks that if she just says and does what he wants, he will never want anyone else. He asks her to come back to bed.


The sometimes cloying flirtations Henry and Catherine go through are necessary to distract them from Henry's upcoming surgery and, more prominently, the war in general. Love is yet another game, like cards or drinking, to numb the pain of war.

Less pleasing to Hemingway's female readers is his representation of Catherine. She promises to be totally submissive to Henry's demands, and is the inverse of the dominant Lady Brett Ashley in Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises. However, she does so less because submission is such a major part of her character, but because she wants to escape her grief over her fiancé through another man.

Book Two: Chapter XVII:

Henry wakes up after his operation feeling like he was choked. He feels better after a little while and is told the operation was successful. There are now three other patients in the hospital. Catherine continues to do night duty, and she and Henry spend time together when she is not working. Helen, who passes notes between the two lovers, becomes a good friend to Henry, though she warns him not to get Catherine "'in trouble.'" He asks her and Miss Gage to let Catherine off night duty for a while, as she has been tired lately. Catherine takes night duty off for three days before she comes back to renewed mutual interest with Henry.


Henry and Catherine settle into a steady routine that takes advantage of his hospital stay. Although Hemingway does not lavish attention on it, it appears that Helen and Miss Gage have mixed feelings about the relationship. While Helen is happy for them, her priorities are to protect the fragile Catherine, hence her warning for Henry not to get Catherine "'in trouble'" (pregnant). Miss Gage, on the other hand, appears slightly jealous, as if she wants Henry for herself. She twice reminds him "'I'm your friend,'" once while she leans over him.

Book Two: Chapter XVIII:

Henry and Catherine enjoy their romance throughout the summer, going out for carriage-rides and dinners. They love touching each other, and Henry especially enjoys taking down her hair and letting it cascade over them. They think about each other constantly. Henry wants to get married, but Catherine says she would be sent home if they were; besides, they are essentially married as it is. She admits she may have been crazy when she first met him, but now she wants them to maintain their happiness. Nevertheless, she pledges to remain faithful to him. She also reminds him she had a bad experience last time she planned to marry someone.


Catherine's hair emerges as a symbol of the safe haven love can create in times of strife. She and Henry hide within her luxurious locks to block out the rest of the world, and she even equates her hair with the "game" of sex: "'Would you like me to take down my hair? Do you want to play?'"

Her hair is also related to water, a rare positive association for the otherwise negative symbol in the novel. Inside the cave of her hair, it feels like they are "behind a falls," and her hair also shines "as water shines." However, it is important to note that her hair never feels like water, but only looks like it (in that it shines like water and looks like waterfalls). Therefore, it never takes on the negative qualities of water in the novel - muddy and destructive.

Nevertheless, Catherine fears something destructive will happen, as it has happened before to her: "'I suppose all sorts of dreadful things will happen to us.'" In the war-torn world, tragedy is inevitable, so they must savor their love while they have it.