Catherine: A Manipulative Caretaker In A Farewell to Arms, Frederic Henry is characterized initially by a sort of detachment from life-though well-disciplined and friendly, he feels as if he has nothing to do with the war. These feelings of detachment are pushed away when Henry falls in love with Catherine and begins to realize the hostile nature of the world. In this way, Henry serves the function of a character that becomes initiated in Hemingway’s philosophy of an indifferent universe and man’s struggle against it.
Due to the untimely death of a fiance previous to the events of this book, Catherine is initiated into Hemingway’s philosophy, and exemplifies the traits of the Hemingway code hero throughout the novel. She is characterized primarily by her disregard for social conventions as well as an unfaltering devotion to Henry. Catherine is defined as a code hero because of her honor, courage, and endurance in pain. Honor is defined as having a keen sense of ethical conduct. For Catherine, the ethical conduct is keeping Henry happy, and in doing so, she is keeping herself happy.
At first glance, Catherine Barkley appears to be an example of any man’s fantasy girl. She appears as a dull character that asks nothing of Henry and is only there to make him happy. Because of this, it is said that Catherine’s character is demeaning to women. Catherine Barkley’s basic approach to her relationship with Frederic shows her as being inferior. She appears to gladly accept a lower role in her relationship with Frederic. “I’ll do what you want and say what you want,” she tells him, “and then I’ll be a great success, won’t I” (Hemmingway105).
Her idea of a successful relationship, and of happiness, is based on making Frederic happy no matter what she has to do. Like the code hero, she handles conflicting needs with grace, giving to both, but shorting none. She uses Henry as a template to fulfill her need for her dead fiance. And because Henry is characterized as unemotional, it is effortless for her to use him as a template to mold him into the man she longs for. She enters the war as a nurse the same time her fiance enters as a soldier, but because he dies she longs for a clutch to keep track of reality.
She is always surrounded by wounded soldiers, which does not help her cope with the death of her fiance until Henry comes into her life. His unemotional attitude towards the world provides her with the perfect opportunity bring her fiance back to life—in her mind. In a conversation with Henry, Catherine forces words into his mouth, “Say, ‘I’ve come back to Catherine in the night’” (30). Henry instinctually repeats as she says without ever questioning her. He even says, “I thought she was probably a little crazy…I did not care what I was getting into” (30).
Even though he acknowledges the fact that she might be slightly deranged, he accepts her because he the type of man to gamble. In another instance, Catherine reassures herself that her love will not abandon her again. “You’re so lovely and sweet. You wouldn’t go away in the night, would you? ” (197). Because she loses her love once already, she is unwilling to allow that to happen again. Also, by loving Henry, she saves her from going crazy with grief. When everything is exploding all around them, everything takes on more urgency. In her mind, as well as his, it is normal that she feels so intensely for Henry.
And she doesn’t fall apart without him when they are separated, but just keeps on trucking and hoping. She does not need Henry for anything but love. Although, on the surface, Catherine seems to be the perfect male fantasy, she is in fact quite the opposite. In addition to her honorable acts, she displays courage. Even Ernest Lockridge, author of “Faithful in Her Fashion: Catherine Barkley, the Invisible Hemingway Heroine” says, “Catherine frequently displays wit, intelligence, cool irony, and, facing death, she displays dignity and courage—qualities that seems contradictory to the fawning, submissive Catherine” (Lockridge 172).
Hemmingway portrays courage in Catherine when she tries to console Henry about her death. “I’m not brave anymore, darling. I’m all broken. They’ve broken me. I know it now” (Hemmingway 323). Catherine is clearly in fear of death, but she is not trying to run or hide from it. She faces death and tries to console Henry by telling him she is not going to die. After undergoing a caesarian section and giving birth to a stillborn baby boy, Catherine proves just how brave she is. Though she knows she is dying, she still has the dignity and strength to accept such a fate. In face, she finds herself trying to comfort her distraught lover once again.
With death approaching, Catherine’s final words to Frederic Henry suggest she possesses some sense or understanding of her own mortality and of what is soon to come. She says, “I’m not a bit afraid. It’s just a dirty trick” (331). The “it” Catherine refers to is presumably death, but in fact, the indefinite may be referring to life, a process Catherine views as a “rotten game” (31), since so much about it is left to chance and death is always the end. Catherine stood brave in the face of a battle with her own body. Like the soldiers, neither her bravery, nor Henry’s love, could save her from death.
In Henry’s mind, the death of the soldiers and the death of Catherine are parallel tragedies, which cannot be separated from each other. By weaving the tragedies together, he memorializes both such tragedies, and can perhaps hope to heal a bit of his pain. Critics may argue that Catherine is a clutch for Henry to cope with war, but clearly throughout the novel, Henry is more attached to her than she is to him. Frederic says, “When I saw her, I was in love with her. Everything turned over inside of me” (Hemmingway 91). He is truly falling in love with her and who she is, but she, on the other hand only loves him for being alive.
He is, in fact, her tool to endure the emotional pain for the loss of her fiance. Once again Ernest Lockridge says, “To preserve her fantasy, Catherine strives to isolate the relationship from others. She speaks Frederic Henry’s name only once…by worrying that people will suspect an affair…she will not marry Frederic Henry” (Lockridge 174). When Frederic first meets her she laments that she did not marry her fiance before he died. She says that they were engaged for eight years and that they grew up together. She tells Frederic she did not marry her fiance because she thought that it would trap him.
She feels she will do the same to Henry. Frederic Henry does want to be married but Catherine thinks this would keep them from being together during the war. When he pressures her, she says, “We’re really married. I couldn’t be any more married. ” She keeps up this attitude until near the end of her pregnancy, when she says, “I suppose if we have this child, we should really get married” (Hemmingway 115). Frederic says, “Let’s get married now” (293). But Catherine refuses again and claims to want to wait until after the baby is born. She wants the commitment of marriage, but is very suspicious of it as an institution.
Also, Catherine, in her mind, envisions Henry as her dead fiance, so to her she is still completely faithful but in reality, she is with a man that she has not truly come to know. She is at a fragile state where if she acknowledges the death of her fiance, she will be shattered. Her mechanism of coping with the pain of losing a loved one is by replacing him with another body but not in spirit. On a physical sense, she endures pain by being away from Henry as well as the occurrence where she is in labor. While in labor, Catherine is in pain, but she is telling Henry to eat so he is not harmed from hunger. She says, “That was a very big one.
Don’t you worry, darling. You go away. Go have another breakfast” (317). Even with painful contractions, she is more concerned with Henry’s appetite than her own comfort. Catherine has a high endurance for pain, both emotionally and physically. She creates coping mechanisms for both so that she is able to live in reality without seeming insane. Traditionally, Hemingway’s heroes are male, and to interpret Catherine as a code hero was inadmissible. Catherine was thought as an undeveloped character in the novel, merely an idealized projection of male desire. Upon closer examination, however, Catherine does share characteristics of the code hero.
Hemingway’s code hero is a skilled professional. Catherine is a nurse who is skilled in her profession. The code hero lives with courage in a dangerous world. Catherine demonstrates courage when she and Frederic row across the lake to escape into Switzerland, a very dangerous feat, and especially when she tries to deliver their baby, finally realizing that she will die. The code hero also lives in a random universe, but chooses to control himself and endure reality. Catherine cannot control events when she goes into labor, but she endures the pain with dignity until her death.
Catherine endures in other ways, as well. She experiences the death of a fiance and faces great fear as an unmarried nurse when she learns she is pregnant. Throughout all of these times, however, Catherine does not feel sorry for herself, and she does not break. Like a code hero, she endures. Works Cited Hemingway, Ernest. A Farewell to Arms. New York: Scribner, 2003. Print. Lockridge, Ernest. “Faithful in Her Fashion: Catherine Barkley, the Invisible Hemingway Heroine. ” The Journal of Narrative Technique, Vol. 18, No. 2 (Spring 188), pp 170-178
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