There is something unique about the way Ernest Hemingway begins a short story, and readers will find no better example of this than “In Another Country,” first published in 1927 as part of the collection Men without Women. It seems that the first paragraph of a Hemingway story functions one of three ways: It gives some sense of movement or action (for example, “The rain stopped as Nick turned into the road”); it begins with dialogue or conversation (“ ‘All right,’ said the man. ‘What about it?’ ”); or, as is the case with “In Another Country” and many others, it creates a sense of place and/or mood. Often, these beginnings are poignant and painfully descriptive, by Hemingway standards at least.
“In Another Country” begins thus:
In the fall the war was always there, but we did not go to it any more. It was cold in the fall in Milan and the dark came very early. Then the electric lights would come on, and it was pleasant along the streets looking in the windows. There was much game hanging outside the shops, and the snow powdered in the fur of the foxes and the wind blew their tails. The deer hung stiff and heavy and empty, and small birds blew in the wind and the wind turned their feathers. It was a cold fall and the wind came down from the mountains. (206)
The story, set in World War I Italy, begins with an echo of Hemingway’s famous novel of that time and place, A Farewell to Arms (1929):
In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels. Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the trees too were dusty and the leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and afterward the road bare and white except for the leaves.
It is difficult to consider one of these paragraphs without thinking about the other, and even though there are differences in the two (one describes fall, the other summer; one suggests damp and cold, the other aridity and heat), they share the same quality, the poignant creation of place and mood. The sentences have the same surface simplicity, directness, and rhythm that most Hemingway sentences have, but in spite or perhaps because of their directness and simplicity, the reader at once embarks on a journey into a familiar place with the narrator. This familiarity that Hemingway creates between his narrators and readers has often been commented upon, but in “In Another Country,” it serves a different purpose. Readers feel as if they are there fishing the river on the plain with Nick Adams or watching the bullfights in Pamplona with Jake and Brett in other Hemingway works, but in this story the narrative familiarity serves as irony.
“In Another Country” is the story of an American soldier receiving physical therapy for wounds he has received in combat. Far from the front in Milan, the narrator and four other patients make their way through the streets of the city on their way to the hospital to receive treatment. There the patients are exposed to revolutionary treatments using new machines, and they naturally have doubts about the efficacy of the new treatments. The wounded veterans are naturally bitter about their wounds and the treatments they receive. The American later learns that the major is suffering emotionally because his young wife had died recently, and the story ends with the patients’ continuing the cycle of pointless treatment at the hospital, the major staring out the window.
Perhaps the key to the story is the expression given by the narrator as he describes the mental condition of his fellow patients. Speaking of the lieutenant, the most decorated of the group, the narrator points out that “he had lived a very long time with death and was a little detached. We were all a little detached” (207). The idea of detachment naturally fits the story, as readers would expect that the veterans, now far from the front and dealing with their physical and emotional wounds, would feel separated from the rest of society, and readers may also expect Hemingway’s terse style to suggest detachment itself. The American is detached from the Italian soldiers in his group, mainly because he received his decorations only “because I was an American” (208). He is learning Italian and is not very good at it, and that also makes him detached from the group. The doctor and his patients mainly participate in idle chat, instead of meaningful conversation.
However, in light of the mood and sense of place established in the story’s opening lines as well as the relationship between the American and the major, which strengthens toward the end of the story, the idea of detachment becomes somewhat ironic. The American and the major are anything but detached when the major explains that his wife had died recently, and the sense of place established in the opening lines is so detailed and poignant that readers experiencing the narrative familiarity that Hemingway is famous for feel a strong sense of attachment and immediacy.
Benson, Jackson J., ed. New Critical Approaches to the Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1991.
Bloom, Harold, ed. Ernest Hemingway: Modern Critical Views. New York: Chelsea House, 1985.
Hemingway, Ernest. “In Another Country.” In The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway: The Finca Vigía Edition. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1987.
Oliver, Charles M. Ernest Hemingway A to Z: The Essential Reference to the Life and Work. New York: Facts On File, 1999.
Tyler, Lisa. Student Companion to Ernest Hemingway. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2001.
Wagner-Martin, Linda, ed. Ernest Hemingway: Six Decades of Criticism. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1988.
Categories: American Literature, Literary Criticism, Literature, Short Story
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