The Italian major, a former fencing champion, is in the Milan hospital because his hand has been mangled in battle. A controlled military man, he is cynical about the machines that are used to rehabilitate his wounded extremity, and about the tales of bravery and heroism he hears from the young Italian officers. He befriends the narrator, who is also injured, and tutors him in Italian. The Italian major has recently married a young woman, something he would not do until he was injured—and therefore would not be sent into battle again. However, when his wife dies unexpectedly from pneumonia, the major loses his soldier-like composure, and weeps, not just for her death, but also, according to Earl Rovitt in his essay, “OfHuman Dignity: ‘In Another Country,'” for his understanding that he must now confront the meaninglessness of life, one that has shown him that his strict military code could not protect him from life’s vulnerabilities.
See Italian Major
Though the major’s wife never appears in the story (she is mentioned only in the second-to-last paragraph of the story), she plays a major role. A young, healthy woman, her sudden death from pneumonia leads the Italian major, her husband, to learn he cannot control life, a lesson which is also observed by the story’s young narrator.
The narrator is a young American in Italy during World War I. Though unnamed, the narrator’s identity is assumed to be Nick Adams, an alter-ego for many of Hemingway’s semi-autobiographical short stories. The narrator is in an Italian hospital receiving therapy for his injured leg. He befriends several other officers with whom he shares the experience of facing death and surviving, and of getting decorated for their efforts. When the other soldiers learn that the narrator’s other medals are merely for his being an American, and not for acts of heroism or bravery, he becomes an outsider to their circle. Realizing that his fear of death would make him an unlikely member of their group in the future, the narrator befriends an Italian major whose hand is wounded, a man whose cynicism toward bravery does not alienate the narrator from him. The narrator senses their connection is lost, however, when the major unexpectedly loses his young wife to pneumonia. According to Laurence W. Mazzeo in his “Critical Survey of Short Fiction,” Nick comes to realize that ‘ ‘nothing of value can last in this world.”
See Italian Major
Ira Mark Milne (Editor), Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context, and Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, Volume 8, Ernest Hemingway, Published by Thomson Gale, 2000.