“Life isn’t hard to manage
when you have nothing to lose” This was Catharine Barkley’ case. She perfectly
describes how women’s role changed throughout the novel, and how powerful she
became. She represented women in that time. I will analyze women’s role thought
the 19th hundred and throughout the book. In a Farewell to Arms,
Ernest Hemingway recreates himself through the character Frederic Henry, he was
an ambulance driver on the Italian front during World War I. Hemingway based
the novel on his own previous experience. He was born in Oak Park, Illinois,
and (Lockridge, 189-191). Like Frederic, he served at the Italian army front,
where he was wounded, and was sent to the hospital, where he met Agnes Von
Kurowsky, she was a nurse from the United States. Catherine Barkley’s character
is based on her. They shared the quality of being fascinated with being an
individual, and not ruled by any person, especially a man. In AFTA, Hemingway
explores the gender emergence of the new feminine ideal.

The 19th hundred
was a time of great change considering the changes society was going through,
and how the gender roles were being merged. Women were given the right to vote,
proving equality and how the roles of women were improving, meaning they were
given more significant jobs, such as being a nurse. Catherine Barkley, appears
to have the role of “submissive fawning dream-girl” (Lockridge 170). However,
she reveals the New Woman of Hemingway’s female character. Hemingway’s
characters were usually seen as Victorian Woman, which were the ideal woman
defined by specific attributes. In the words of Feminist Barbara Welter, the
attributes of Victorian Womanhood “by which a woman judged her-self and was
judged by her husband, her neighbors and society” were piety, purity,
submissiveness, and domesticity. The characteristics were stressed by society
as a whole. However these so called virtues began to be strongly challenged at
the end of the 19th hundred. 
When comparing these four virtues to Catherine’s character one can see
how perfectly she embodies the New Woman role.

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Catherine is the image of the New Woman, for starters
with her lack of piety. She has made clear her atheism against the Victorian
Ideal of being placed underneath her husband and God. Her lack of belief drives
her away from marriage and domesticity, another Victorian Ideal.  In the book Catherine says “You see darling,
it would mean everything to me if I had any religion. But I haven’t any
religion” (Hemingway, 116). As the new woman she represents, she has the right
to reject religion and create her own beliefs. When it comes to piety, Henry is
the one who takes the feminine and Victorian role. He struggles throughout the
novel with the idea of religion. Catherine proves to be the stronger character
with her ability to make decisions, regardless of any religion and stick to her
own beliefs.

Another time of the book is when one can see Catherine
taking the role of a man when they are in a hotel, and she says “I wish we
could do something really sinful. Everything we do seems so innocent and
simple” (Hemingway, 153). Which is weird seeing how they had been sleeping
secretly together (out of marriage) for the past six months in the hospital.
She also takes a masculine role when she says “I wish I’d had it to be like
you. I wish I’d stayed with all your girls” (Hemingway, 299). Once again taking
the role of a new women and expressing the idea that there should not be a
disgrace on woman having sexual affairs out of wedlock. It may seem as
Catherine embodies a Victorian woman in a sense of submissiveness as she is
constantly trying to be a “a good girl” for Henry (Hemingway, 138), however a
detailed reading reveals Catherine’s dominance and thriving for equality in her
relationship with Henry.

On way Catherine shows her dominance is in her refusal
to officially marry Henry. Once again, she is against the Victorian ideal of
domesticity. Catherine did not marry her ex fiancé because she thought it would
“be bad for him” (Hemingway, 19). She does seem to regret not marrying him, but
for his sake, not hers, considering that she states “I could have given him
that anyway” (Hemingway, 19). She rejects a traditional feminine role, such as
being a wife, several times even after her pregnancy becomes known she says
“I’m not going to be married in this splendid matronly state” (Hemingway, 293).
Also, the way she treats her baby reaffirms she did not want to be seen as
domestic. Instead of enveloping herself on her pregnancy, she feels more
worried about how she looks with this huge burden than instead of doing plans
for after the baby is born. Living a domestic life is the last of Catherine’s
ideas.

             Hemingway’s main woman characters belong to
the new, young generation, very different from the conformist generation.
Through this women Hemingway holds his ground strictly against the conformist
and conventional world and tried to portray the changes in society. Hemingway
presents Catherine as a modern woman who has her own voice, and personality.
She has her own sense of personal honor, independent thinking personality,
which she maintains until the end. She abides her own rules and values. Her
values include sexual freedom, having a baby out of wedlock, and refusing to
marry Henry. Helen Ferguson, Catherine’s friend also plays an important a
significant role, where she highlights the positive characteristics of
Catherine. Catherine along her friend look for peace and security in a
war-driven world, where her life and happiness revolve around her love towards
Henry. Hemingway shows Catherine’s self-consciousness through her calling attention
to her role-playing. She several times is seen taking off masks, allowing her
cynicism to cut through the romantic sense of the novel. Catherine manipulates
expectations of feminine behavior and desire, and the way Henry reacts, proves
that she succeeds. However when she changes her verbal ways, Hemingway is
deconstructing gender, showing it as a self-conscious shaping.

Hemingway had the tendency to
portrait Catherine as a dependent woman. It is Hemingway’s need for sex, and
some womanly comfort that keeps henry coming back to Catherine, not love or any
true connection. This is Hemingway’s way to show misogyny, however it is unintentional,
and unmasked. In henrys universe she is an object, a feast of sensation but
nothing else. Henrys feelings towards Catherine, both when he is at the front
or by her side. Henry compares Catherine to food, and for him a good Capri
would be nice, a nice piece of cheese would be grand, and sleeping with
Catherine would be sublime. Hemingway dissolves Catherine into an object,
devoid of meaning. Catherine cannot be an angel if she is being treated as an
object.

At the end, gas is the only thing that can help
Catherine, even though she had convinced herself that that conventional gender
roles are natural. In the end, “marriage” and having babies, which
would be the Victorian values, are completely accord to the disruptions of
modernity. Catherine begs for more anesthetic by saying she’ll be
“good,” and any prior talk of self-erasure becomes just romantic
tripe used to conceal her feeling of being adrift and at the mercy of forces
she cannot control whatsoever. Her identity as a modern women was gone when she
admits “They’ve broken me. I know it now” (Hemingway, 323). And as
she dies, she looks at Frederic, and tells him not to touch her, but then puts
on the feminine disguise one last time by saying, “Poor darling. You touch
me all you want” (Hemingway, 330). Catherine ends her life with the
hard-boiled attitude she displayed when Frederic first met her: “I’m not
afraid. I just hate it. … I’m not a bit afraid. It’s just a dirty trick”
(330, 331). John Beversluis argues that “Catherine dies still believing
the Myth of Romantic Love”

Throughout the book, Catherine demonstrates she is not
a piece of food, or an object. Hemingway changes his way of describing woman throughout
his books. In a “Farewell to Arms”,
the way he portrays woman changing roles, changing they think, and proving to
be more that just sex toys or slaves, they are creatures worthy of being love
and respected. Throughout this book, Hemingway explores the role of women as new
modern instead of it being Victorian minded. All the little moments when
Catherine knowingly performs a conventional gender role, or where she calls
attention to Frederic’s doing the same, without mentioning when they both did
the same disruption of gender stereotypes. It is the treatment of women I find the
most intriguing because it undermines not only the conventions of identity but
also the stereotype of Hemingway as a simple misogynist.