The following part of the dialogue puzzles me:

"What's the matter, father? You seem very tired."

"I am tired but I have no right to be."

"It's the heat."

"No. This is only the spring. I feel very low."

"You have the war disgust."

"No. But I hate the war."

"I don't enjoy it," I said. He shook his head and looked out of the window.

"You do not mind it. You do not see it. You must forgive me.

I know you are wounded."

"That is an accident."

"Still even wounded you do not see it. I can tell. I do not see it myself but I feel it a little."

First of all what does the priest mean when he says that Henry can't see it? The horrors of war in general? If so he must mean that in a metaphorical sense since a few chapters ago Henry saw a soldier under his command die painfully after getting injured by artillery among other horrible things, correct?

Why does Henry respond with "That is an accident." ? Does he mean that it is:

a) an accident that he can't see it and that he doesn't try not to see it on purpose


b) an accident that he got wounded?

Then the priest goes on to tell Henry that even though he got wounded he can't see it despite in the sentence before implying that he can't see it because he got wounded

I can't really make sense of it ...

Furthermore what I'd be interested in (assuming that this dialogue seems strange to others too and not only me) does the weirdness stem from the fact that Hemingway tried to emulate Italian?

Thanks in advance.

(For reference the complete text can be found here.)

Edit: Posted what I added in the original edit as an answer and removed it here.


2 Answers 2


I'll start with the simple question:

"That is an accident" refers to being wounded. Hemingway wrote of being wounded as "an accident" in some of his other stories.

Regarding "it":

Henry becomes detached from reality after his injury. You can see it, for example, in the way he fails to respond and care for Catherine. This detachment and indifference is a major theme in the poetics of the novel.

Henry detached from the pain and suffering and horror of his surroundings and circumstances. The priest did not, so he feels it intensely, which brings him "low".

That is in fact quite a natural reaction to their situation.

That's the reason for the duality of phrasing that you observed.

On the one hand, the priest realizes that Henry can no longer experience "it" (as explained above) because he has been wounded. He must detach, defensively, and thus he "does mind it". In fact, Henry detaches for the express purpose that he "won't mind it". He got too close to the absolute horror of war, and now he can no longer feel it, or anything. Like someone who touched a scorching hot furnace, which burned his nerve endings, and now can no longer feel anything.

On his next reply, the priest also acknowledges the paradox of Henry coming into the closest possible contact with the horror of war - physical injury - yet now being unable to feel it anymore.

The priest also acknowledges that he himself did not come into such close contact ("I do not see it myself") but unlike Henry, he is not terminally, defensively detached so he does feel it to an extent ("but I feel it a little").

Henry's defensive detachment reaction is a central them in A Farewell to Arms and this conversation is one of its many expressions.


After reading the part again I think it stands literally for the war itself. Since Henry serves in a medical unit he doesn't fight on the front and being in charge of the mechanics he might not actually see many wounded or dead. Then it would make sense to say that he doesn't see the war, after all we know that Henry stays in the village with other officers, drinking, seeing women and even going on vacation.

After the priest told Henry that he doesn't see the war he might have realized that Henry is in the hospital for a reason and apologized.

Apparently injuring oneself was something soldiers would do to escape the fighting and just to clarify Henry added that him being wounded was an accident, speaking in the present tense because his Italian is not perfect. However I don't think that the priest alluded to that at all since he calls Henry a patriot in the same chapter.

If you have a better explanation I'd love to hear it though.

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