John Stubbs

’ “Love And Role Playing In A Farewell To Arms” Essay, Research Paper

John Stubbs’ “Love and Role Playing in A Farewell to Arms”

John Stubbs’ essay is an examination of the defense which he believes Henry and

Catherine use to protect themselves from the discovery of their insignificance

and “powerlessness…in a world indifferent to their well being…” He asserts

that “role-playing” by the two main characters, and several others in the book,

is a way to escape the realization of human mortality which is unveiled by war.

Stubbs thinks that Hemingway utilized role-playing as a way to “explore the

strengths and weaknesses of his two characters.” Stubbs says that by placing

Henry’s ordered life in opposition to Catherine’s topsy-turvy one, and then

letting each one assume a role which will bring them closer together, Hemingway

shows the pair’s inability to accept “the hard, gratuitous quality of life.”

Stubbs begins by showing other examples, notably in In Our Time and The Sun Also

Rises, in which Hemingway’s characters revert to role-playing in order to escape

or retreat from their lives. The ability to create characters who play roles, he

says, either to “maintain self-esteem” or to escape, is one Hemingway exploits

extraordinarily well in A Farewell to Arms and therefore it “is his richest and

most successful handling of human beings trying to come to terms with their


As far as Stubbs is concerned, Hemingway is quite blatant in letting us know

that role-playing is what is occurring. He tells that the role-playing begins

during Henry and Catherine’s third encounter, when Catherine directly dictates

what is spoken by Henry. After this meeting the two become increasingly

comfortable with their roles and easily adopt them whenever the other is nearby.

This is apparent also in that they can only successfully play their roles when

they are in private and any disturbance causes the “game” to be disrupted. The

intrusion of the outside world in any form makes their role-playing impossible,

as evidenced at the race track in Milan, where they must be alone. The people

surrounding them make Catherine feel uncomfortable and Henry has to take her

away from the crowd. He goes on to describe how it is impossible for them to

play the roles when they are apart and how they therefore become more dependent

upon each other’s company.

Stubbs goes on to explain how, “neither mistakes role-playing for a truly

intimate relationship, but both recognize that it can be a useful device for

satisfying certain emotional needs.” He says that originally Henry and Catherine

are playing the “game” for different reasons but eventually move to play it as a

team. Henry is role-playing to regain the sense of order he has lost when he

realizes the futility of the war and his lack of place in it. Catherine is role-

playing to deal with the loss of her fiance and to try to find order in the

arena of the war. When they are able to role-play together, “the promise of

mutual support” is what becomes so important to them as they try to cope with

their individual human vulnerability.

He also analyzes the idyllic world introduced early in the story by the priest

at the mess and later realized by Henry and Catherine in Switzerland. They fall

fully into their roles when they row across the lake on their way to their

idealized world. The fact that they actually are able to enter this make-believe

world strengthens their “game” and allows it to continue longer than it would

have otherwise. And once they are in this new world they adopt new roles which

allow them to continue their ruse. They also need to work harder to maintain the

“game” because far from the front they are both still aware the war is

proceeding and they are no longer a part of it. The world in which they exist in

reality (!) is not conducive to role-playing because it tries repeatedly to end

their “game”.

Stubbs manages to uncover numerous instances in which the two are role-playing

and he makes a very interesting case that this is exactly what they are doing

and not just his imagination reading into the story. He does make certain

assumptions, that their love is not “real”, that the characters are searching

for order, which are not completely justified or even necessary to prove his

point. He also forces an intentionality upon Hemingway which could have been

avoided without harming his theory. Towards the end of the essay Stubbs infers

that their role-playing is “inferior to true intimacy,” which is a point that,

although he defends well, is not central to his theory and seems to detract from

his objectivity.

The essay is a valuable tool to help the reader understand this view of what is

happening through Henry and Catherine’s relationship and how they use each other

to maintain their self-images, provide themselves with psychological support,

and in a way escape the war. Hemingway may not have been trying to purposely

create a role-playing scenario, but Stubbs’ essay will benefit someone wishing

to explore this aspect of the relationship of the two main characters in greater



Bruccoli, Matthew J. and Clark, C.E. Frazer (ed.), Fitzgerald / Hemingway Annual

1973, pp. 271-284, Microcard Editions Books, Washington, D.C., 1974

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