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Essay/Term paper: John stubbs' "love and role playing in a farewell to arms"

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Ernest Hemingway

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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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