A Farewell To Arms: Novel Summary: Book V Chapter 38-41

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Book V
Chapter 38-41

It is autumn and Catherine and Frederic are living in a rented brown wooden house on the side of a pine tree covered mountain outside of Montreux. Frederic describes the early morning activities of their landlady, Mrs. Guttingen, who starts the fire and brings them breakfast in bed. From the bedroom windows they have a view across a lake to the snow topped mountains of France beyond. They take many walks in the woods, play many hands of cards and read many books. Mr. Guttingen is a retired headwaiter and he and his wife are very happy in their life together. Though they choose to spend most of their time in the countryside, Frederic and Catherine sometimes walk to Montreux for Catherine to have her hair done and Frederic to drink beer and read the papers. On one such visit Catherine expresses her desire to have a beer as well because the doctor has told her that it will help keep the baby small. It is best that the baby be small because she has narrow hips. She refuses Frederic's proposal that they marry immediately and insists they wait until after the baby is born and she is thin again. They talk of all the sights in the United States that they will visit once the baby is born and they are legally married.

The first snow arrives three days before Christmas. They take a walk to the station in the blowing snow and have vermouths at the inn next door. They fill their days with pleasant conversation. Catherine asks Frederic to grow a beard for the fun of it and he agrees, she asks if he is growing tired of her and he disagrees, she suggests that she would like to cut her hair short and he observes that he would not like that at all. Upon questioning Frederic admits that he thinks about his friends like Rinaldi and the priest who are still in the war but insists that he doesn't miss them at all.

By the middle of January Frederic has a full beard and he and Catherine take many walks in the snow-covered mountains. Often they stop at an inn where the woodcutters come to drink hot red spiced wine. "It was a fine country," observes Frederic, "and every time that we went out it was fun." During one such visit they vow not to let the baby come between them. Catherine asks about their money and Frederic replies that, thanks to his family, they have enough. They reaffirm their love for one another.

Their winter idyll continues to be pleasant until March when the rains come and turn the mountain into a muddy morass. The baby, whom they refer to as "Little Catherine" is due in just over a month and they decide to move to the nearby town of Lausanne where the hospital is located. Mr. and Mrs. Guttingen express sorrow at their departure and ask them to return when the baby has been born and the weather improved. In Lausanne they take a room in a medium-sized hotel. It is March of 1918 and Frederic is drinking whiskey and soda while reading about the German offensive in the papers when Catherine observes that she will need to buy some baby clothes. He remarks that as a nurse she should know about such things and she rejoins that very few of the soldiers had babies in the hospital. He jokes back that he, at least, had a baby in the hospital and she swats him with a pillow. They order dinner and wine sent to the room and Frederic muses on the pleasures of good whiskey.

They spend three weeks at the hotel. Frederic passes his mornings by practicing boxing at the gym, though he notes that he found it difficult to properly shadow box in the mirror because the sight of a boxer with a beard looked silly. He and Catherine take afternoon carriage rides into the country. The weather turns more agreeable with the approach of spring and time seems more precious. "We knew the baby was very close now," he muses, "and it gave us both a feeling as though something were hurrying us and we could not lose any time together."

At three o'clock in the morning one night Catherine begins to have labor pains. Frederic calls the doctor and he says that he will meet them at the hospital. Catherine is given a room and a nightgown and Frederic sits on a chair in the hallway to wait. Eventually the nurse calls him back to the room. Catherine's pains become more regular and, in her desire to have the baby with minimal trouble, she calls the big pains "good" and the little ones "bad". She and the nurse insist that Frederic go get some breakfast because first pregnancies usually involve long labors and there is plenty of time. Outside it is growing light and he goes to a nearby cafe and has some brioche, wine and coffee. He returns to the hospital to find Catherine in the delivery room. The doctor is giving her gas for the pains.

By noon Catherine's pains have slackened but she is exhausted by the ordeal and is a little delirious from the gas' affects. Catherine insists that the doctor have lunch. He leaves Frederic to administer the gas. At two o'clock Frederic returns to the cafe for lunch and beer and while he eats he muses on a woman with a child in the cafe and wonders how her births went. He returns to the hospital to find Catherine partly drunk from the gas but insisting that she will not die. The doctor asks Frederic to leave so he can make an examination and while he waits Frederic worries that Catherine will die. He thinks that this is the price of a night of love in Milan and that though her pregnancy has been easy they are paying for their pleasure now at the end. He tries to reassure himself that she will be all right. The doctor comes and tells him that the baby will not come on its own and he recommends a Caesarean operation. After some questioning Frederic gives the doctor permission to perform the operation as soon as possible. He goes to see Catherine before the operation and she is distraught with the pain and exhaustion. The small doses of gas no longer ease her pain and she begs for a large dose. Frederic administers a very large dose but latter admits that going above a certain point on the dial made him nervous. When she returns to consciousness she explains that she is broken and feels like she might die. He insists that she cannot die because he won't allow her.

They take Catherine into the operating room and Frederic cannot bear to watch the procedure. He stays in the hall. After awhile he sees the doctor and some nurses emerge with a newborn child and he follows them. It is a boy and Frederic observes that he feels no emotions of fatherhood. When the nurse asked him if he wants a son he says no and that he is not proud of the boy because he almost killed his mother. The doctor is examining the child and looks worried when Frederic leaves the room and finds Catherine looking almost dead. He watches another doctor sew up the incision on her belly. He accompanies the stretcher to her room and she revives moaning. He tells her that they've had a fine looking son and the nurse looks at him strangely. She insists that he leave so Catherine can rest. In the hallway the nurse explains that she thought he knew that the baby was born dead. Frederic returns to Catherine's room and watches her sleep. He muses that in the end everyone dies, whether it happened suddenly or slowly the result was the same. He thinks that now Catherine will die. He remember a time at camp when he was young and he put a log full of ants in a fire and watched them perish though he had the power to save them.

Frederic returns to the now crowded cafe and has two orders of ham and eggs with several beers. The waiter remembers him from lunch. On another man's paper he notices that there has been a breakthrough on the British front. He returns to the hospital and finds that Catherine has had a hemorrhage. He prays that she will not die. When he sees her she is gray and very weak. She believes that she will die and says she hates it. She says that she is afraid. She doesn't want a priest, only Frederic. She makes him promise not to do or say any of their things with other girls. She slips into unconsciousness, has several more hemorrhages without waking and dies quickly.

The doctor wants to take Frederic back to the hotel but he refuses. Frederic will not speak of the operation with the doctor. Against the nurse's wishes he enters Catherine's room and forces the nurses to leave but when they are gone he realizes it is no good, "like saying good-by to a statue." It is night and he walks back to the hotel in the rain.

Analysis
The winter of Catherine's pregnancy operates in parallel to the summer she and Frederic spend falling in love in Milan. In Milan they discovered their love and a desire to be alone with each other. In Switzerland they are truly alone, however, and the outside world does intrudes into their relationship. They are insulated and happy. Catherine's pregnancy is their only source of consternation but aside from her comment about her small hips even this does not deter their happiness. Their only desire is to have the baby and move on with their life together. The weeks before the baby is born are portrayed as a kind of stasis and serve as a parallel to the three weeks of leave he lost to jaundice at the end of their idyll in Milan. Frederic's shadowboxing is a kind of allusion to the future that will not be rushed. Their wait ends with the onset of Catherine's labor and as is progresses Frederic becomes increasingly isolated from her experience. Thanks to the ether Catherine also becomes detached from the protracted labor. Her frustration mounts and the ether's effects begin to wear thin so it is with something like relief that she greets the operation. "Isn't that grand," she says to Frederic, "Now it will be all over in an hour." The fact that Frederic prays during her operation reveals the extent to which he has identified her with his life. When she dies, he realizes that her death, far from holding purpose, is simply one more thing that has happened and could not have been altered. She has become "like a statue" to him in death and now that is over he has nothing left but the hotel and the rain.

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