A Farewell to Arms: Love and Role Playing

A Farewell to Arms: Love and Role


John Stubbs' essay is an examination of
the defense which he believes Henry and Catherine use to protect themselves
from the discovery of their insignificance and "powerlessness...in a world
indifferent to their well being..." He asserts that "role-playing" by the
two main characters, and several others in the book, is a way to escape
the realization of human mortality which is unveiled by war. Stubbs thinks
that Hemingway utilized role-playing as a way to "explore the strengths
and weaknesses of his two characters." Stubbs says that by placing Henry's
ordered life in opposition to Catherine's topsy-turvy one, and then letting
each one assume a role which will bring them closer together, Hemingway
shows the pair's inability to accept "the hard, gratuitous quality of life."

Stubbs begins by showing other examples,
notably in In Our Time and The Sun Also Rises, in which Hemingway's characters
revert to role-playing in order to escape or retreat from their lives.

The ability to create characters who play roles, he says, either to "maintain
self-esteem" or to escape, is one Hemingway exploits extraordinarily well
in A Farewell to Arms and therefore it "is his richest and most successful
handling of human beings trying to come to terms with their vulnerability."

As far as Stubbs is concerned, Hemingway
is quite blatant in letting us know that role-playing is what is occurring.

He tells that the role-playing begins during Henry and Catherine's third
encounter, when Catherine directly dictates what is spoken by Henry. After
this meeting the two become increasingly comfortable with their roles and
easily adopt them whenever the other is nearby. This is apparent also in
that they can only successfully play their roles when they are in private
and any disturbance causes the "game" to be disrupted. The intrusion of
the outside world in any form makes their role-playing impossible, as evidenced
at the race track in Milan, where they must be alone. The people surrounding
them make Catherine feel uncomfortable and Henry has to take her away from
the crowd. He goes on to describe how it is impossible for them to play
the roles when they are apart and how they therefore become more dependent
upon each other's company.

Stubbs goes on to explain how, "neither
mistakes role-playing for a truly intimate relationship, but both recognize
that it can be a useful device for satisfying certain emotional needs."

He says that originally Henry and Catherine are playing the "game" for
different reasons but eventually move to play it as a team. Henry is role-playing
to regain the sense of order he has lost when he realizes the futility
of the war and his lack of place in it. Catherine is role-playing to deal
with the loss of her fiance and to try to find order in the arena of the
war. When they are able to role-play together, "the promise of mutual support"
is what becomes so important to them as they try to cope with their individual
human vulnerability.

He also analyzes the idyllic world introduced
early in the story by the priest at the mess and later realized by Henry
and Catherine in Switzerland. They fall fully into their roles when they
row across the lake on their way to their idealized world. The fact that
they actually are able to enter this make-believe world strengthens their"game" and allows it to continue longer than it would have otherwise. And
once they are in this new world they adopt new roles which allow them to
continue their ruse. They also need to work harder to maintain the "game"
because far from the front they are both still aware the war is proceeding
and they are no longer a part of it. The world in which they exist in reality
(!) is not conducive to role-playing because it tries repeatedly to end
their "game".

Stubbs manages to uncover numerous instances
in which the two are role-playing and he makes a very interesting case
that this is exactly what they are doing and not just his imagination reading
into the story. He does make certain assumptions, that their love is not"real", that the characters are searching for order, which are not completely
justified or even necessary to prove his point. He also forces an intentionality
upon Hemingway which could have been avoided without harming his theory.

Towards the end of the essay Stubbs infers that their role-playing is "inferior
to true intimacy," which is a point that, although he defends well, is
not central to his theory and seems to