A Farewell to ArmsJohn Stubbs’ “Love and Role Playing in A Farewell to Arms”John Stubbs’ essay is an examination of the defensewhich he believes Henry and Catherine use to protectthemselves from the discovery of their insignificance and”powerlessness. . . in a world indifferent to their wellbeing. .
. ” He asserts that “role-playing” by the two maincharacters, and several others in the book, is a way toescape the realization of human mortality which is unveiledby war. Stubbs thinks that Hemingway utilized role-playingas a way to “explore the strengths and weaknesses of his twocharacters. ” Stubbs says that by placing Henry’s orderedlife in opposition to Catherine’s topsy-turvy one, and thenletting each one assume a role which will bring themcloser together, Hemingway shows the pair’s inability toaccept “the hard, gratuitous quality of life. “Stubbs begins by showing other examples, notably in In OurTime and The Sun Also Rises, in which Hemingway’s charactersrevert to role-playing in order to escape or retreat fromtheir lives.Order now
The ability to create characters who playroles, he says, either to “maintain self-esteem” or toescape, is one Hemingway exploits extraordinarily well in AFarewell to Arms and therefore it “is his richest and mostsuccessful handling of human beings trying to come to termswith their vulnerability. “As far as Stubbs is concerned, Hemingway is quite blatant inletting us know that role-playing is what is occurring. Hetells that the role-playing begins during Henry andCatherine’s third encounter, when Catherine directlydictates what is spoken by Henry. After this meeting the twobecome increasingly comfortable with their roles and easilyadopt them whenever the other is nearby. This is apparentalso in that they can only successfully play their roleswhen they are in private and any disturbance causes the”game” to be disrupted.
The intrusion of the outside worldin any form makes their role-playing impossible, asevidenced at the race track in Milan, where they must bealone. The people surrounding them make Catherine feeluncomfortable and Henry has to take her away from the crowd. He goes on to describe how it is impossible for them to playthe roles when they are apart and how they therefore becomemore dependent upon each other’s company. Stubbs goes on to explain how, “neither mistakesrole-playing for a truly intimate relationship, butboth recognize that it can be a useful device for satisfyingcertain emotional needs. ” He says that originally Henry andCatherine are playing the “game” for different reasons buteventuall. .
. . . y move to play it as a team. Henry is role-playingto regain the sense of order he has lost when he realizesthe futility of the war and his lack of place in it.
Catherine is role-playing to deal with the loss of herfiance and to try to find order in the arena of the war. When they are able to role-play together, “the promise ofmutual support” is what becomes so important to them as theytry to cope with their individual human vulnerability. He also analyzes the idyllic world introduced early in thestory by the priest at the mess and later realized by Henryand Catherine in Switzerland. They fall fully into theirroles when they row across the lake on their way to theiridealized world.
The fact that they actually are able toenter this make-believe world strengthens their “game” andallows it to continue longer than it would have otherwise. And once they are in this new world they adopt new roleswhich allow them to continue their ruse. They also need towork harder to maintain the “game” because far from thefront they are both still aware the war is proceeding andthey are no longer a part of it. The world in which theyexist in reality (!) is not conducive to role-playingbecause it tries repeatedly to end their “game”. Stubbs manages to uncover numerous instances in which thetwo are role-playing and he makes a very interesting casethat this is exactly what they are doing and not just hisimagination reading into the story.
He does make certainassumptions, that their love is not “real”, that thecharacters are searching for order, which are not completelyjustified or even necessary to prove his point. He alsoforces an intentionality upon Hemingway which could havebeen avoided without harming his theory. Towards the end ofthe essay Stubbs infers that their role-playing is “inferiorto true intimacy,” which is a point that, although hedefends well, is not central to his theory and seems todetract from his objectivity. The essay is a valuable tool to help the reader understandthis view of what is happening through Henry and Catherine’srelationship and how they use each other to maintain theirself-images, provide themselves with psychological support,and in a way escape the war. Hemingway may not have beentrying to purposely create a role-playing scenario, butStubbs’ essay will benefit someone wishing to explore thisaspect of the relationship of the two main characters ingreater depth.
Bibliography:Bruccoli, Matthew J. and Clark, C. E. Frazer (ed.
),Fitzgerald / Hemingway Annual 1973, pp. 271-284, MicrocardEditions Books,Washington, D.C., 1974