Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms: Henry – A Man of

Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms”: Henry – A Man of Action, Self-Dicipline, andOne Who Maintains Grace Under Pressure
Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms”: Henry – A Man of Action, Self-Dicipline, and
One Who Maintains Grace Under Pressure
It is the nature of the beast within that fuels our inclination towards
conflict and destruction. During the surreal powers of war, life hangs in the
balance setting the stage for an elite group of individuals who triumphantly
rise above the rest amidst the chaos. As Ernest Hemingway illustrates in his
book, Farewell to Arms, the character of Frederick Henry; an ambulance driver,
is put to the ultimate test during the madness and atrocity of WWI. His
experiences at the front pose a challenge only a Hemingway hero can affront
successfully. As the epitome of a code hero, Frederick is a man of action,
self-discipline, and one who maintains grace under pressure.

Whenever the situation requires, Henry rises to the occasion taking
control of potentially dangerous incidents with quick decision leaving no room
for second thought. After Frederick is captured by the battle police, he
foresees his inevitable death if no action was taken and instinctively escaped
detainment. “I looked at the carabineri, they were looking at the newcomers.

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The others were looking a the colchel. I ducked down, pushed between two men,
and ran for the river, my head down. I tripped at the edge and went in with a
splash” (Hemingway, 214). Henry witnessed the gruesome executions of the
officers before him and knew he was not going to die without a fight to preserve
his precious existence. Being a man of action rather than words, was the
determining factor which helped him survive this unfortunate confrontation with
death. Regardless of the circumstances, Henry used his authoritative position
to make sure others did not engage in any threatening positions that could
jeopardize the ir safety and the safety of others. When one of his ambulances
got suck in the mud during a retreat, two sergeants simply tried to abandon the
situation but Frederick stopped them in their tracks. “Halt, I said. They kept
on down the muddy road, the hedge on either side. I order you to halt. I
called. They went a little faster. I opened up my holster, took the pistol,
aimed at the one who talked the most, and fired” (Hemingway, 195). The men were
given an ample opportunity to obey Henry’s commands and by ignoring them, it
suggested that they were challenging their superior’s authority. Such actions
are not tolerated by Frederick as he was once again forced to take the
initiative as his character is always compelled to do.

The possession of self-discipline is another vital element that forms
the makeup of the code hero and is the only value that will truly serve a man.

Although Henry is an avid drinker, he never becomes drunk to the point that he
does not know what he is doing or can control his behavior and actions. “He
poured two glasses and we touched them, first fingers extended. The grappa was
very strong. ……We drank the second grappa, Rinaldi put away the bottle and
we went down the stairs” (Hemingway, 17). Presented with the invitation, Henry
gladly accepted a few drinks an acted like a dignified gentlemen even though in
the immediate presence of alcohol. A man of strength and character will not let
substance control and influence his actions for only the weak are dependent and
rely upon such means to live out each day. Frederick’s self-discipline not only
shines in his drinking habits, but shows in all instances especially when the
challenge to maintain it is at its greatest. After he plunged into
the lake escaping the battle police, Henry boarded a train and entered a wine
shop in the town of Milan where the train stopped. The owner of this shop
offered to sell him leave papers and also a place to stay to avoid the
authorities, but Frederick avoided the temptation. “Remember, he said. Come
here do not let other people take you in. Here you are all right.”…..”I am in
no trouble, Frederick said. But I value the address of a friend….”(Hemingway,
228). Even though he was a wanted criminal, Henry did not accept the help that
would have provided a way to avoid being arrested even if for only a short time.

As a man on the run, Frederick would be unlikely to repose trust in the first
stranger who accosts him after his disersion. He uses his self-control to
resist his overwhelming urges to accept the help as not to risk jeopardizing his
future with Catherine who was the one and only love of his life. He has an
uncanny ability to weigh and analyze the choices he makes without getting
emotionall y involved.

Frederick is sentimentally detached from the rest of the world which
enables him to deal with intensely climatic moments with such aplomb and ease.

When being transported to his room in the American hospital, Henry graciously
acknowledged the stretcher bearers even in such grueling pain. “There is money
in my pocket. I said to the porter. The porter took out the money. The two
stretcher bearers stood beside the bed holding their caps. Give them 5 lire a
piece and five lire for yourself” (Hemingway, 81). Rewarding the staff for
doing their job in spite of Henry’s uncomfortable dilemma is a perfect example
of how he is able to put aside his true inner feelings to accommodate those
around him. Regardless of the severity of any given situation, Frederick is
able to mask his emotions showing only a nonchalant facade as he performs
mundane duties in traumatic or pressure filled predicaments. He deals with his
wife’s death by merely observing her lifeless body and casually strolling back
to the ho tel like nothing had ever happened. “But after I had got them out and
shut the door and turned off the light it wasn’t any good. It was like saying
good-by to a statue. After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked
back to the hotel in the rain” (Hemingway, 314). The statue is a metaphorical
creation, which attempts to grasp the nothingness Frederick feels after
Catherine’s death. Perhaps the path Henry takes towards the hotel symbolizes a
new chapter in his life one in which he begins without the love he held so
dearly and strived to maintain.

Throughout this tragic piece, Frederick reflects the essential elements
of a true code hero with dignity and grace. By following his character in every
facet of his journey, we see how Hemingway uses it to unify the central events
of the story around his creation of a new breed of hero and all the qualities
they possess. Such characteristics will set one apart and become evident in all
aspects of life where they are truly challenged and welcomed. As it may be, we
all hold the potential to achieve the status of a code hero; but only the strong
and willing are able to look within and release the true essence of their being
for others to experience.
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