“In the fall the war was always there, but we did not go to it anymore.” So begins Ernest Hemingway’s short story, “In Another Country.” The war he refers to is World War I; the setting is Milan, away from the scene of the fighting. The narrator is a young American man who is in the hospital to receive physical rehabilitation for the leg wounds he received while at the front. Sitting next to him is an Italian major, a champion fencer before the war, whose hand has been wounded and with whom the narrator speaks about life. At the story’s end, having learned of his wife’s death of pneumonia, the major must face the future knowing the machines cannot cure him of this different kind of injury.
Point of View
All of the events that occur in “In Another Country” are told from the point of view of the story’s unnamed narrator, an American officer receiving physical therapy in a Milan hospital on his leg, which has been wounded at the front during World War I. The narrator is a young man, presumably about 19, the same age as the author when he also spent time in a Milan hospital, recovering from leg injuries received while working as an ambulance driver for the Red Cross. The events are filtered through the narrator’s perspective, therefore the first person ‘I’ is used throughout. How these events affect the narrator, particularly those which are written about in the greatest detail, like the major’s disillusionment following the death of his wife, is not directly revealed. However, it is apparent that what he has witnessed has made a strong impact on him because he has chosen to recount the story so vividly. Readers may assume it is an older narrator who is telling the story, as it is written in the past tense.
One of the most distinctive aspects of this story, and most of Hemingway’s literature, particularly his many stories about this same narrator—unnamed here, but known as Nick Adams elsewhere—is its objective tone. Though the story is told from the narrator’s perspective, how they affect him is never made explicit. Instead, each of the events is described almost in the way a journalist reports a newspaper story, with as little subjectivity, or personal interjection, as possible. One way this is achieved is by using very few adjectives. This is done to avoid manipulating the reader’s imagination. The specific details of each event are recorded in an objective way, leaving the readers to put the pieces together; this way readers can discover their own interpretation of what the events mean. This distinctive style, perfected by Hemingway, has been widely imitated and greatly praised, though it has its share of detractors as well.
Existentialism is a philosophy concerned with the meaning of existence. One of the aspects of this philosophy is the isolation of the individual, a condition all human beings must face at some time. The Italian major comprehends this after the unexpected death of his wife to pneumonia. When he returns to the hospital to continue the machine treatments on his hand soon after her passing, the narrator observes the major struggle to maintain his previous soldierly posture as he stares out the window. It has been implied by scholars that, having lost his innocent belief that loss can be minimized through discipline and precision, what the major sees out that window is life’s vast emptiness. He is coming to terms with the fact that all connections are eventually lost, especially through death, and that life carries with it a sense of its own meaninglessness. This knowledge is one of the cornerstones of the existentialist philosophy, and it can be found in much of Hemingway’s literature.
There are several examples of symbolism throughout the story. One such symbol is the window the major looks out of following the death of his wife. Previously, he looked at a wall while receiving his machine therapy. But, after his wife’s death, he stares out the window instead. The major, at this point, is no longer emotionally walled in; he is open, vulnerable. The window symbolizes this opening inside him. The machines also have symbolic significance. Though utilized by the patients, the men know that they are probably ineffective; yet, they still return to them day after day, following the regime their use requires. Humans each follow their own daily regimes, hoping that they, too, are useful, purposeful. However, the story suggests, this is unlikely. The machines are an external symbol of life’s probable futility, a condition which becomes apparent to the major after his tragic loss.
Irony occurs when the outcome of an event contrasts the intention of what has come before it. A particularly strong example of this can be seen with the Italian major. He has lived his life carefully, following a strict military code which has helped him maintain emotional control even while having to confront death, his own and that of others, nearly every day while at war. He depends on this, believes it will save him from being unprepared for great loss. Ironically, this man who believes he is in control of his life, soon learns, via the death of his wife, that his composure, his military precision worn like armor, cannot protect him from personal tragedy. This irony changes his life, and brings out many of the story’s major themes.
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.