Places: A Farewell to Arms

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1929

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Impressionistic realism

Time of work: World War I

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Italy

*Italy. Farewell to Arms, ACountry in which Ernest Hemingway’s American protagonist, Frederic Henry, serves as a volunteer ambulance driver during World War I–just as Hemingway himself had served during that war. Moreover, Henry is also like Hemingway in being severely wounded and invalided to recuperate in an American hospital in Milan. There Henry experiences the first serious love of his life, The foreign location makes it easier for Henry to examine the meaning of his young life and allow him to mature as he confronts danger, death, and love. Throughout the novel, Henry struggles to grapple with the foreign language, Italian customs, and unfamiliar geography. All these struggles heighten his perceptions in ways that help bring about his maturation.


*Gorizia. Small town in northeast Italy near which several major engagements between Italian and Austrian forces were fought during the spring and summer of 1916. Frederic Henry is stationed in a town near Gorizia with the Italian ambulance corps. It is in this location and through his interaction with the other troops stationed there that he begins his maturation.


*Plava. Town in northeast Italy on the Isonzo River, north of which Frederic Henry is wounded. Henry’s world is first truly shattered in Plava when he is suddenly forced to face death for the first time. The event, being hit by an Austrian trench mortar, introduces the theme of death’s randomness and its unexpected appearance as well as the need always to be prepared to expect it. This presence of death haunts the rest of this novel as it did most of Hemingway’s prose throughout his career.


*Milan. Large northern Italian city to which Henry is sent to recuperate from his wounds. The American hospital there with its American nurses offers a small bit of home amid the foreign environment. Henry experiences a reprieve from the war and has the time to reflect on his mortality in congenial and familiar surroundings. Here, too, he falls in love, which connects the themes of love and war. The love theme proves another experience in Henry’s maturation. It also gives him a reason to reconsider his participation in the conflict and heightens the sweetness of life. Later in the novel, his love for Catherine, the American nurse, hastens his decision to leave the scene of death and destruction for the peace and safety of Switzerland.


*Caporetto. Battle site in Italy where the Italian forces experienced one of their most devastating defeats during the war. Henry joins the retreating troops there in one of the most memorable sections of the book. It is during the retreat that Henry makes his “separate peace” with the war, which later results in his desertion and flight with Catherine.

*Taglamento River

*Taglamento River. River that the Italian forces cross during their retreat from Caporetto. During the crossing, Henry dives into the river to avoid being shot by the military police. This action can be seen as his “baptism” into a new life after he has made his “separate peace.”


*Stresa. Italian town northwest of Milan where Henry meets Catherine after his desertion. In a small boat they row some twenty miles up Lake Maggiore to Switzerland. Their escape over water reintroduces the baptism theme of Henry’s immersion in the Taglamento River and suggests another rebirth.


*Switzerland. Country to which Catherine and Frederic escape from Italy. They spend the winter at Montreux at the east end of Lake Geneva. When Catherine dies in childbirth, Henry again confronts the inexplicable presence of death. This event provides the final, if unresolved, event in his initiation into manhood.

BibliographyBeversluis, John. “Dispelling the Romantic Myth: A Study of A Farewell to Arms.” The Hemingway Review 9, no. 1 (Fall, 1989): 18-25. Rejecting the common romantic interpretation, Beversluis asserts that this novel explores the problem of self-knowledge. His reading of the character of Catherine is especially interesting. A special A Farewell to Arms issue of the journal.Bloom, Harold, ed. Ernest Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms.” New York: Chelsea House, 1987. Offers a representative selection of the best scholarship available on the novel. Includes Bloom’s introduction, chronology, bibliography, and index.Donaldson, Scott, ed. New Essays on “A Farewell to Arms.” Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1990. Appropriate for specialists and nonspecialists. The introduction discusses the novel’s composition, publication, and reception, as well as its major critical readings from publication to 1990.Lewis, Robert W. “A Farewell to Arms”: The War of the Words. Boston: Twayne, 1992. Comprehensive resource. Concludes that the novel is about language–particularly the language by which truth and falsehood are revealed.Waldhorn, Arthur. A Readers’ Guide to Ernest Hemingway. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1972. A concise, well-written vision of Hemingway and his works, appropriate for specialists and nonspecialists.
Categories: Places