A Farewell To Arms by Ernest Hemingway

Analysis of Part 8 (Chapters 28 - 32)

"There was no need to confuse our retreat," says Henry. "The size of the army and the fewness of the roads did that." The retreat is more chaotic than the battlefield, and that irony serves as a prime example for the indifference of the universe towards man's plight (note the unending rain and the role of mud in this section). Thousands of men flee across the countryside to avoid death, only to find it. Hemingway takes great pains to show the futility of escape from battle (clearly a symbol for life). A person can take the main road and get bombed, or take the side roads and get stuck in the mud. A soldier left behind can surrender to the enemy (Bonello) or get killed by his own paranoia-stricken people (Aymo). An officer can either be executed by his angry troops, or by the battle police in need of someone to blame defeat on. The chaos of the retreat is best exemplified by the death of Aymo, whose "killing came suddenly and unreasonably." There is no preparation and there is no reason for anything that happens.

Easily the most odious characters in this section are the battle police, who "had that beautiful detachment and devotion to stern justice of men dealing in death without being in any danger of it." These men are cold, adhering still to the notions of "justice" and "victory" which Henry rejected long ago-they do not realize that there is no order in the war. Their actions are clearly impractical, and the values they serve are dead. When Henry deserts the army, he does not feel any sense of loyalty towards these men-only contempt.

The cleansing imagery of the river is a sort of baptism for Henry, washing away his obligation to the army or a higher order, and when lying atop the guns in the train Henry formulates a way to make sense from the senselessness of life. "You did not love the floor of a flat-car nor guns with canvas jackets and the smell of vaselined metal or a canvas that rain leaked through," he explains, "but you loved some one else whom now you knew was not even to be pretended there." A person does not focus his attention on the senselessness of life itself, but struggles to create order in it. In Henry's case, his relationship with Catherine defies life's senselessness.

At the end of Book 3, Henry takes his first step towards finding peace by rejecting any obligation to the world. The world has clearly dealt him an injustice, and he declares that once this happens "You were out if it now. You had no more obligation." He sets his mind away from contemplating the universe, and concentrates instead on Catherine.