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Teaching the Childbirth Scene in A Farewell to Arms

Updated: Feb 10

Here are some suggested discussion prompts if you're looking to examine Hemingway's representation of motherhood in A Farewell to Arms.

 


 

Perhaps no one writer in the twentieth century is more associated with a particular brand of hyper-masculinity than Hemingway, a man who was aware of this image and actively reinforced it through his writing. With this in mind, it may seem counterintuitive to discuss Hemingway in terms of mothering, but A Farewell to Arms is as much of a love story as it is a war story, with its final sequence among the most memorable and tragic of endings. Hemingway agonized over this scene--writing around 47 versions--indicating the central importance this childbirth-gone-wrong had to his work. Knowing the critical nature of this final scene, a discussion about it seems not only warranted but necessary, and one cannot fully grapple with its implications without considering the role mothering plays. In service of facilitating this conversation, here are some questions and prompts to consider:

  • Consider Catherine’s reaction to the ultimately fatal birth. She both knows that she is going to die and is completely calm, barely expressing pain. Does this ‘flatten’ Catherine, transforming her into a symbolic, ideal mother rather than a human woman who experiences emotion and pain? Or is there a greater purpose to this reaction that justifies it?

  • Catherine is never told of the baby’s death, but Frederic is. What do you think this may say about gendered power dynamics in the realms of parenting and healthcare?

  • What do you make of Hemingway using the deaths of Catherine and her child as a plot device, important in relation to their impact on Frederic and a sense of disillusionment? Is this dynamic of a woman being valuable only in relation to a man an uncharitable view or emblematic of Catherine as a character more broadly?

  • Included among Hemingway’s many editions of the ending is several versions of “The Live-Baby Ending,” in which the baby lives but Catherine still dies. What would be the implications of this different ending on a reader’s reaction to the novel? Why do you think that it was Catherine who ‘had’ to die in every possible conclusion?

 

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