A Bartolomeo Aymo
Aymo is one of Frederic Henry’s ambulance drivers during the Italian army’s retreat. He is also the driver Frederic is closest to. During the retreat, Aymo generously picks up two peasant woman with assurances that he will not rape them. This assurance frightens them even more-they, unfortunately, only recognize the one word of Aymo’s Italian. It is also Aymo who is mistakenly shot by the Italian rear guard. It is a tragic mistake both for its stupidity and because he was Frederic’s friend. Aymo’s role, then, is as a symbol of innocence killed by the stupidity of war.
B Catherine Barkley
An English nurse with the Red Cross, Catherine Barkley is introduced to Henry through Rinaldi in Chapter IV. Frederic perceives “Miss Barkley [as] quite tall. She wore what seemed to be a nurse’s uniform, was blonde and had a tawny skin and gray eyes. I thought she was very beautiful.” Rinaldi, on the other hand, calls her a “lovely cool goddess.” These two examples summarize the critical views of Catherine-she is thought to be either a heroine or a sex object.
Not surprisingly, Catherine prefers Frederic to Rinaldi and begins a game of love with Frederic. She tells the story of how her fiance had been horribly killed in the battle of the Somme but Frederic doesn’t say anything. “They blew him all to bits,” Catherine tells Frederic, who says nothing. She had imagined something far more picturesque, like a sabre cut, which she would have joyously attended to. But this is World War I-trenches, mortars, and “bits”-and its horrors are awesome. Catherine reveals, through the tale of her childhood lover’s death, how much more hardened by war she is than Frederic. Certainly, she has known the tragedy more intimately.
As a nurse, Catherine is able to transfer herself to the hospital where Frederic is recovering. Then, she flees with him to Switzerland where she dies from internal bleeding resulting from a difficult childbirth. In her death she is the picture of heroism and her statements are full of dark humor. “I’m not afraid. I just hate it,” is one of the final lines, which leaves Frederic quiet and solitary.
Catherine is a close examination of femininity in wartime but filtered through the subjective eyes of Frederic. This being the case, any decision about the character of Catherine is also a reflection on Frederic. Even so, Catherine is a representation of women in war, both as the ideal being defended by the army and the ideal sought by the individual soldier. In response to critics who have reacted negatively to her role, it can be suggested that while Catherine is won by Frederic, becomes pregnant, and then killed in a rather typical manner of a war novel, she also shows a certain assertiveness that is certainly lacking in Frederic Henry.
Another of Frederic’s drivers, Bonello is a lively sort who is looking forward to champagne at Udine-the end of the retreat. It is Bonello who asks to kill the sergeant that Frederic shot and wounded for not obeying orders. Later, after Aymo is shot, Bonello decides he would rather risk capture by the Germans then be killed by the Italians.
D Helen Ferguson
Helen is a Scottish nurse with the Red Cross and a friend to Catherine Barkley. She makes it a point to tell Rinaldi that there is a difference between the Scottish and English. However, the translation is not very clear and Rinaldi understands her to mean that she dislikes Catherine. Helen is protective of Catherine in the same way that Rinaldi looks out for Frederic. Helen, like Rinaldi, represents the importance of social ties that become forged in war. The two characters regret the love of Frederic and Catherine because it disrupts the social network that was making the war bearable. Thus, when Frederic deserts the army and finds Helen and Catherine in Stresa, Helen is angry. She admonishes Frederic for being so irresponsible as to “compromise” and desert Catherine, but she eventually calms down. She eventually blesses the union if only because it is Catherine’s wish. Having assented to the coupling, Helen is left alone.
He is the first of the drivers and mechanics that Frederic meets upon his return to the front. They discuss the war and war tactics generally until Gino begins to patriotically call his country sacred. It is after this that Frederic reveals how uncomfortable the words of honor and glory make him. He thus labels Gino a patriot, meaning, Gino is a naive boy who will not be so quick to defend war once he is in it.
F Count Greffi
The Count is staying in the same hotel where Frederic and Catherine stop while in Stresa. A very old man and formerly of great political importance, Count Greffi is the clearest representative of tradition and institution in the novel. Count Greffi, whose ideals were now being questioned and abandoned, helped make that nineteenth-century world which had been the cause of the devastating war. Frederic knew the Count from before the war and understands him to represent all those values, thus, he cannot refuse a game of pool. The Count is another of Frederic’s tutors who wisely tries to impart lessons the priest has already tried to share, though not as concisely. The Count tells Frederic, while he beats him in pool, that a person ought to love one’s fellow citizens, not abstract values. He says that the love of abstract values leads one to a foolish pursuit of illusions.
G Mr. Frederic Henry
A Farewell to Arms is Frederic Henry’s story of what happened to him during the First World War. Frederic is an American serving the Italian army as an ambulance driver. While in the service of the Italians, he falls in love with an English nurse named Catherine Barkley. He is wounded and sent to a hospital in Milan. Catherine transfers to the same hospital and they spend an idyllic time together as he recovers. Once his wounds have healed, Frederic must return to the front. Soon after he arrives, the Italian line breaks, and during the retreat from the Germans, he decides he has had enough of the war and deserts rather than be killed by battle police. After reuniting with his love, they flee to Switzerland. Once safely in the neutral nation, they pass the time playing cards until Catherine’s baby is due. Both she and the baby die in childbirth and Frederic is left alone.
Frederic Henry’s story reveals his education by various “tutors”: the priest, Rinaldi, Catherine, the mechanics, and the war. Each try to impress upon Frederic a different lesson but he merely reacts to each. For example, the priest tries to persuade Frederic onto a moral and Christian path. In doing so, he extends an invitation to Frederic to visit his family. Frederic accepts, but instead chooses the more typical adventures of an officer on leave-he goes drinking and visits the brothels. He tries to explain his decision to the priest, saying, “we did not do the things we wanted to do; we never did such things.” Ultimately, Frederic must learn from his experiences and, thus, his education is self-instructed. That is, from his beginning as a rootless boy, he gains such experience that even in his position as reactor, he must react to his own collection of experience. It is this that he must finally face in Catherine’s death and which leads him to write it out, like an essay in answer to a test question. It is from this position that his retrospective narration is told.
Throughout the novel Frederic maintains his curious outsider status. He is an American who volunteered. “It did not have anything to do with me. It seemed no more dangerous to me myself than war in the movies,” he says early in Chapter VII. Thus, as a foreigner, he finds it possible to observe the Italians without direct involvement, but then he is wounded. He is part of it as much as an ambulance driver is a part of any war. This position, as well as his forced reaction to his various tutors, leads Frederic into his separate relation with the world and this, in turn, affords him the ability to make a separate peace with the war and withdraw his involvement. Still, though he decides this is a possibility for him, there remains the fact that Henry is a reactor to events. That is, in the key moment that ends his belonging in the Italian army, he is merely risking his life to avoid summary execution. He decides, in his first bold move of the book, to jump into the river rather than face the stupidity of the guards.
Passini is killed in the same mortar attack which wounds Frederic. Passini talks against the war from a very socialist standpoint. He believes that the class controlling the country is stupid, and that is why there is war. Frederic tolerates such troublesome talk out of good humor, but also because he doesn’t disbelieve him. It is after this conversation about politics that the mortar hits.
I Luigi Piani
Luigi Piani is an ambulance driver under Frederic’s direction when he returns to the front. While of lesser rank, Piani is Frederic’s equal in every other way. Though he allows Frederic to be in charge, it is Piani who finds food, who leads Frederic the right way when they’ve left the ambulances, and who keeps him from being roughed up by the regular troops when they approach the battle police. Piani knows what is happening so far as the war is concerned, but he can do nothing to protect Frederic as they near the police. Piani is successful in his role as the brains of the group who feeds information to the leader, thereby insuring the group’s survival. It is not his fault that Frederic is such a poor leader.
The chaplain of the Italian army stationed with the forces Frederic serves with, the priest is the subject of mess-hall jokes. He senses that Frederic is sympathetic to the Christian message, and they view each other as friends. He tries to persuade Frederic to spend leave time with his family in Abruzzi so he might have time to reflect and rest from the front. Then, when Frederic is in hospital, the priest comes to visit. This visit causes the clearest moment of insight into the human condition in war, according to Frederic. The topic is invoked because the Priest attributes his fatigue to disgust of the war. Still, nothing is decided, though they both agree that war is the product of lust and not love.
K Lt. Rinaldo Rinaldi
A surgeon for the Italian Army, Rinaldi is Frederic’s roommate and friend. He is very protective of Frederic and calls him names full of endearment, for example, often referring to Frederic as “baby.” He even comes to visit Frederic in the hospital and assists in the transfer of Catherine to Milan. He tries to be a good person and strives to be the best surgeon. However, the war is stressful, and he drinks to keep his hands steady. His visits to the brothel eventually give him gonorrhea. Stereotypically, he is the romantic Italian who the novel loses track of in the retreat.
L Ralph Simmons
Ralph Simmons is an American friend of Frederic who is trying to earn a living as a singer under the name Enrico DelCredo. He seems to have little success. His purpose in the novel is to offer an opposite of Frederic, a kind of alternate self. Ralph truly has no involvement in the war but wants to be Italian, whereas Frederic is involved in the war as an Italian but doesn’t want to be. Frederic goes to Ralph after he makes his escape from the battle police. Ralph lends him some clothes and Frederic goes on his way.