In Ernest Hemmingway’s A Farewell to Arms, the protagonist, Frederic Henry is both dysfunctional and tragic. Throughout the story Henry lives up to this description of shear tragedy and dysfunction. The main elements that aid in making him both tragic and dysfunctional are: the fact that the love he and Catherine shared at the end of the book was doomed, this love was only “role-playing” to him at first, and he went AWOL on the Italian army.
The first detail that contributes to making Henry a dysfunctional character is that he uses role-playing as a way of escaping the realization of the human mortality which is unveiled by the war. This role-playing begins on Henry and Catherine’s third encounter.
After this meeting the two become increasingly comfortable with their roles. It is as if their whole relationship is a “game”. Neither one of them mistakes role-playing for a truly intimate relationship, but both recognize that it can be a useful device for satisfying certain emotional needs. This role-playing is a very dysfunctional characteristic of Frederic Henry.
The second point that makes Henry a dysfunctional character is that he deserted the Italian army. Not only was this illegal but it could have cost him his life. Henry, although an American, had made a commitment to the Italian army, to protect and serve Italy. This characteristic alone is enough to make one dysfunctional, as it does to Henry.
In addition to being a dysfunctional character, Henry is also a tragic character.
The love that Henry gains for Catherine is pure tragedy. Although the relationship that Frederic and Catherine had started out to be only role-playing it turned into something much more, it became true love. This love was more than could be explained in words.
Their love during an ugly war was not to be recreated or modeled even as much as through a baby conceived by their love. The baby could not be born alive because their love was beautiful yet doomed so that nothing could come out of it. “In a world where the abstracts of glory, honor, and sacrifice meant little to Frederic, his physical association with Catherine was the only thing he had and it was taken away from him long before she died.”1 In conclusion, these three main items aid in making Henry a dysfunctional and tragic character. Henry had fled his duty as a soldier, giving up on the country he had confided in. Henry was engaged in a relationship which started as a mere game, grew into love and ultimately ended in the tragic death of his precious wife and child. Frederic Henry is a tragic and dysfunctional character in a tragic and dysfunctional story.