Lieutenant Henry and his fellow ambulance drivers establish themselves in a dugout across the river from the enemy troops. The drivers argue over the purpose of the war, with the driver named Passini the most philosophically opposed. While the drivers are eating, the Austrian bombardment wounds Henry and kills Passini, after which Henry is transported away from the fighting in great pain.
Dramatically, this chapter provides the novel's second major turning point, as Lieutenant Henry's war wound will remove him from action and thus enable his affair with Catherine Barkley to grow into love.
Thematically, Hemingway uses the discussion among the drivers in the dugout to articulate his beliefs on war, or at least his beliefs on World War I. (The writer was an ardent supporter of the Republican, or anti-Fascist, side in the Spanish Civil War, subject of his later novel For Whom the Bell Tolls.) Since Henry is relatively inexperienced and therefore naïve at this point in the novel, it is Passini who puts these ideas into words: that nothing is worse than war, that war makes men go crazy, that those who fear their superiors are responsible for war. "Everybody hates this war," Passini says. Perhaps Passini plants the idea of a separate peace in Henry's head when he states, "One side must stop fighting. Why don't we stop fighting? If they come down into Italy they will get tired and go away."
Henry, by contrast, is still talking about bravery (though, significantly, he does admit after the first shelling to being scared). In a bit of foreshadowing that will prove ironic, he argues against giving up: "It would only be worse if we stopped fighting." He says defeat is worse than war itself.
The topic of desertion is explicitly addressed — specifically, the consequences of desertion from the Italian army. One of the drivers tells Henry that, when one unit wouldn't attack, military police shot every tenth man, and according to Passini, even the families of deserters are punished. Keep in mind how the writer has carefully planted the information about the brutality of the military polices; later, Hemingway's investment will pay off for writer and reader alike.
Consistent with the novel's first chapter, Chapter IX powerfully illustrates Hemingway's belief (at least during this stage of his life and career) that war is unglamorous. Notice that Henry is wounded and Passini killed not while performing daring feats of heroism, but while eating cold spaghetti. Henry's attempt to save Passini's life while he himself suffers is certainly heroic, but the scene is more absurd than epic.
In this chapter, Henry is finally exposed to the reality of the battlefield. As a result of his own intense pain and the trauma of witnessing the death of a comrade (not to mention the chapter's final scene, in which he is soaked by the blood of a dying soldier), Henry will no longer be able to deny his involvement in this war or its potential to affect him. The naivete that he displayed earlier in the book is evaporating, and Henry is beginning to approach the understanding of life and death that Catherine has possessed since they met.
Finally, notice how Hemingway continues to focus on the concrete and the specific, not only in his bravura description of the explosion that wounds Henry, but in small ways as well. When a shell hits nearby while Henry and Gordini are returning to the dugout with food, Henry tells us that "I was after him, holding the cheese, its smooth surface covered with brick dust." The detail of the brick dust on the cheese brings the scene alive.
screens of corn-stalk and straw matting and matting over the top used here as camouflage.
observation balloons During World War I, military observers often ascended in balloons to observe the battle preparations of the enemy from aloft.
the war in Libya Libya was won by Italy from the Ottoman Empire in 1912.
wound-stripes insignie, like the American Purple Heart, indicating that the wearer has been wounded in battle.
Fiat radiator the nose of a car or truck made by the Italian automobile manufacturer.
mess tins portable metal plates, bowls, and cups, for eating on the march or on the battlefield.
granatieri (Italian) Grenadiers.
Grenadier a member of a special regiment or corps.
Alpini (Italian) Alpine troops.
V.E. soldiers troops fighting on the Italian side.
Evviva l'esercito (Italian) Long live the army.
San Gabriele town near the present-day border between Italy and Slovenia.
Monfalcone town in present-day northeast Italy, between the Isonzo River and the Gulf of Trieste. At the time during which the story takes place, it lay within the boundaries of Austria-Hungary.
Trieste seaport in present-day northeast Italy, on an inlet (Gulf of Trieste) of the Adriatic Sea. At the time during which the story takes place, it lay within the boundaries of Austria-Hungary.
cognac a French brandy distilled from wine in the area of Cognac, France.
Savoia region in southeast France, on the borders of Italy and Switzerland: a former duchy and part of the kingdom of Sardinia: annexed by France (1860).
pasta asciutta (Italian) dry pasta.
four hundred twenty a 420-millimeter mortar.
minnenwerfer (German) literally, "mine-thrower."
big Skoda guns a type of artillery.
three hundred fives 305-millimeter guns.
mama mia (Italian) my mother.
Dio te salve, Maria (Italian) God hail you, Mary.
Porta feriti! (Italian) Take the wounded!
tourniquet any device for compressing a blood vessel to stop bleeding or control the circulation of blood to some part, as a bandage twisted about a limb and released at intervals.
puttees coverings for the lower leg, in the form of a cloth or leather gaiter, or cloth strips wound spirally.
wallahs persons connected with a particular thing or function.
He is the legitimate son of President Wilson The doctor is trying to encourage special attention for Lieutenant Henry.
Ça va bien? (French) Are you doing well?
Antitetanus inoculation against tetanus, an acute infectious disease, often fatal, caused by the specific toxin of a bacillus which usually enters the body through wounds: it is characterized by spasmodic contractions and rigidity of some or all of the voluntary muscles, especially of the jaw, face, and neck.
I'll paint all this The doctor is offering to swab Lieutenant Henry's wounds with antiseptic.
Vive la France (French) Long live France.
sergeant-adjutant a staff officer who serves as an administrative assistant to the commanding officer.