The identify of Frederick Henry in A Farewell to Arms
Ernest Hemingway’s celebrated novel, A Farewell to Arms, discusses the hierarchy of nationality, class, and power during wartime. Frederic Henry finds himself an American serving in the Italian army as an ambulance driver. The United States somehow becomes glorified in the eyes of the Italian population, and a sense of eminence is thrust upon Henry. He never fully integrates into the Italian army, nor does he wish to do so. Henry is decidedly separated, but more importantly, his nationality establishes for him a higher status. Henry’s character is influenced by his American citizenship. This progression is defined by the economic gap as well as his interactions with his Italian comrades and regular citizens.
Henry is modest, almost to the point of shyness. He refuses to be recognized for heroism after an explosion in Chapter Nine that takes the lives of three men. He is wounded as well, but “would rather wait,” for medical attention, as “there are much worse wounded” than he. An English doctor scoffs, “Don’t be a bloody hero,” and falsely informs the Italian hands that “he is the legitimate son of President Wilson (58).” This elevated status brings Henry to the top of the list for treatment. Later, Henry’s friend Rinaldi informs him, “Everybody is proud of you…I am positive you will get the silver.” Rinaldi tries to play Henry up in order to win him a medal, but again, Henry quickly changes the subject (63). Henry’s humility is apparent; whether he is inherently shy or embarrassed by misleadingly brought-on attention is unclear. His position as an American certainly facilitates things, but Henry still refuses to accept his separateness.
Though divided by nationality, Henry manages to become friendly with the Italians in his troop. While drinking one night in Chapter Twelve, they ask Henry to predict the course of events regarding the war. He speculates, while drunk, that the United States will declare war on nearly everyone. The Italians are open to hearing and accepting Henry’s theories, which demonstrates their trust in the American opinion. They tend to value Henry’s opinion over their own. Henry is referred to as “Signor Tenente,” Mr. Lieutenant, not out of anonymity, but out of respect. His title commands respect, as there are many positions below him. When he is brought to an American hospital, he is, interestingly, refused a room (80). Henry is clearly unfit, but perhaps now that he is in an official manifestation of his own country, he is demoted from a type of celebrity to an equal.
Henry’s interactions with common Italians are similarly insightful. He often requests alcohol while in the hospital, against the nurses’ orders. The porter fetches drinks for Henry regardless (84). In Chapter Fourteen, Henry receives a rude visit from an Italian barber. The porter misinforms the barber that Henry is an Austrian officer; therefore, the barber’s speech is snappy and blunt. After learning Henry is American, the barber is unquestionably embarrassed. The porter resurfaces in Chapter Thirty-three. He and his wife constantly ask Henry if they can do anything for him, offer him breakfast, but always refuse pay. He leaves the porter’s for his friend’s house, Simmons, to get civilian clothes. Simmons welcomes Henry into his closet. Henry is noticeably uncomfortable in the clothes; he confirms this in the first sentence of Chapter Thirty-four: “In civilian clothes I felt a masquerader.” Aviators in the same train compartment as Henry avoided looking at him, and were “very scornful of a civilian [his] age (221).” When Henry transforms himself into a regular Italian, he falls dramatically on the social hierarchy.
Money (lire) is also a noteworthy component of Henry’s elevated status. Henry maintains this by always tipping generously or offering money during appropriate events. He tips the stretcher-bearers in the hospital, though they drop him numerous times, and is repeatedly saluted.
The young girls whom Bonello picks up in Chapter Twenty-nine are dismissed with a ten-lira note, and they held the money tightly and “looked back as though they were afraid [he] might take the money back (188).” Though Henry willingly hands out money, he is often refused. As mentioned before, the porter and his wife are willing only to give and not take (218). During a particularly awful hangover in Chapter Twelve, Henry tries to tip a soldier who has brought him a “pulpy orange drink,” but the soldier just shakes his head (76). This speaks much for the Italian people, who (among other things) are portrayed as unselfish. This also could indicate that some Italians, though undeniably poor, are somewhat embarrassed by Henry’s wealth. Henry’s bountiful wallet secures America in its higher status.
Sometimes it seems as if Henry has a real interest in integrating into the Italian culture, but continues to keep himself separate, American. Henry’s character advances from a meek expatriate to a commanding American. As he becomes more aware of his status, he progressively embraces the power handed to him by his nationality. He begins to not only accept, but enforce his authority. The one time he is challenged by two sergeants in Chapter Twenty-nine, Henry shoots them. “You’re not our officer,” they say, but this does not convince Henry to back down. He conquers the opposition with a pistol (186), and reaffirms all perceptions of himself as an American expatriate in the Italian army.