Trying to regain use of a knee that was wounded during World War I, Nick is in an Italian hospital for therapy, riding a kind of tricycle that his doctor promises will keep the muscles elastic. Nick is dubious of the machine and the therapy, as is a friend of his, an Italian major who is also undergoing therapy with a machine that exercises his hand that was injured in an industrial accident.
Four other young men, Italian soldiers, are also using therapy machines, and they brag about the medals that they've received for their valor in battle. In contrast, the major never brags about his own bravery. He is deeply depressed and finally reveals to Nick that his young wife has just died.
As noted elsewhere, the Nick Adams stories were not published in chronological order, paralleling Nick Adams' maturing from a small boy to a mature adult. This story, for instance, appeared in the 1927 issue of Scribner's magazine, some two to four years after "Indian Camp," the first of the Nick Adams stories to appear. Here, the narrator is unnamed, and early critics didn't associate this narrator with Nick Adams, but subsequent critics agree that the main character is indeed the Nick Adams of the other stories, the Nick Adams who will go to the Big Two-Hearted River to fish and forget his war experiences and try to heal his physical and psychological wounds.
When the story was first published, many readers were puzzled about what this story was about. Later critics have even wondered if this is the major's story or the narrator's story. Read within the context of the other Nick Adams stories, this question is easily solved. "In Another Country" is, of course, a Nick Adams story. From the other stories, we realize that Nick Adams is honest, virile, and, more important, a person of extreme sensitivity. By observing the particular state of mind of the young narrator at the beginning of the story, we see that what happens to the major makes a tremendous impact on the young, wounded soldier.
The narrator's sensitivity is keenly presented by the way in which he observes his surroundings. It begins with one of Hemingway's simple, perfect sentences — a sentence that could not have been written by anyone else: "In the fall the war was always there, but we did not go to it any more."
Other observations in the first paragraph reveal the narrator's extremely sensitive mind making sharp observations: "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 . . ." or "On one of [the bridges], a woman sold roasted chestnuts. It was warm, standing in front of her charcoal fire, and the chestnuts were warm afterwards in your pockets." The descriptions are so vivid that we are often lulled into a complacency and do not realize that the story is really about bravery, courage, and death.
Structurally, Hemingway creates three recurrent ideas: Nick's break with society; the subsequent establishment of his "code"; and the wound, which influences the first two factors. Nick's wound, while not always displayed or talked about, nevertheless plays a central role in this story. Nick will be the prototype for many of Hemingway's later characters. Wounded, Nick feels that the three Italians with medals are "hunting hawks," men who lived by the importance attached to their medals. In contrast, the major who has many medals never talks about them. Additionally, Nick feels that he has not served as a participant in the war. He feels alienated from the three "hawks" and aligns himself with the young soldier who was wounded in the face, who was not at the front "long enough to be tested."
The first half of this very short story deals mostly with the setting and other observations and creates an atmosphere of alienation, one directly related to Nick's own sense of insecurity. Then the story shifts, and we meet the major, undergoing physical therapy and using a machine nearby the machine that Nick is using. The major represents the older, established "code hero"; Nick is the initiate who will learn from the major's reactions to war, to the machines, and to death. Like many future Hemingway heroes, the major has been at the top of his craft; he was once the finest fencer in Italy, but now his fencing hand is wounded, stunted, and withered. Furthermore, the major has been awarded three medals and yet never mentions them because he does not believe in touting bravery.
In contrast to the three young "hawks" who brag about their medals, Nick doesn't feel comfortable bragging about his medals. He is drawn to the major, who is obviously a brave man but doesn't talk about it. Furthermore, the major does not believe in the so-called therapeutic success of the machines, yet he continues to come to the hospital and use them. Nick does not understand this contradiction at first because, for the major, the machines represent a discipline that is necessary for the Hemingway code hero. In a similar way, the major insists that Nick speak Italian that is grammatically correct. This is another type of discipline, and the major spends a good deal of time correcting Nick's grammar.
The major is sardonic about doctors; his comments are filled with veiled contempt. When a doctor tells Nick that he will play football again, the major wants to know if he too will ever play football again. The major, once Italy's greatest fencer, is honest and realistic about the therapeutic value of the machines and points out that if he and Nick are the first to use them, where did the doctor get the "before and after" pictures?
When the major bursts out into a vindictive attack against marriage, Nick is caught off balance by the major's intense, emotional explosion because the major has usually exhibited superbly disciplined control of himself. Readers later learn that the major's wife, much younger than he, has just died from pneumonia after three days of suffering. The major cannot resign himself to the loss of his wife. He is crushed, shattered by the news.
This story combines two of Hemingway's favorite narrative devices: First, he creates an older, seasoned code hero, a man who has confronted life and has experienced the hard, cruel world but has not given in to any display of emotion; he has carefully refrained from baring his emotions except in this very rare case of the death of his young wife. He never talks of his own bravery or his courage or his exploits on the battlefield; he lives a highly disciplined life until he has to confront the death of his wife.
Second, in contrast to the older code character, we have the initiate — here, young Nick Adams, the innocent soldier who is just entering into a world of war and violence.
in the fall possibly an autumn during 1918, the last year of World War I. Hemingway was injured in July 1918 while delivering chocolates and cigarettes to Italian soldiers stationed on the Piave River.
a black band the black cloth band that the major wears around the upper part of his arm of his uniform, signifying that he is in mourning.
Using Italy as the setting for "A Way You'll Never Be" and "In Another Country," Hemingway explores the experience and the effect of war as seen through the eyes of the central character, Nick Adams.
"A Way You'll Never Be" concentrates on Nick's head wound and the effects of heat, concussion, and psychological trauma while near the Austro-Italian border shortly after the war. It is an account of how Nick copes with shell shock, or what is known today as post-traumatic stress syndrome, and the visual reminders and residue of death, destruction, and loss. Seeing the bodies of the Italians and Austrians piled up and rotting in the heat in Italy becomes an inescapable image for Nick.
One notable characteristic about this short literary sketch is how Hemingway uses a different writing technique from his own to create Nick's dream. Hemingway's style is lean and declarative; in Nick's dream, the style is different, creating a surreal dreamscape that separates the "Hemingway reality" seen in his usual sparkling, clear style.
"In Another Country" revisits the Hemingway code hero concept, with Nick Adams recuperating in an Italian hospital alongside some high-ranking Italian officers and a friend who is a major. They are all resting and undergoing physical therapy. While there, Nick observes the behavior of his older and higher-ranking friend, the major. It is this particular man that Nick identifies with and learns from by observing how he reacts to other mens' bragging, personal loss, and physical therapy itself. Additionally, Nick learns what it is to be disciplined, even if he does not entirely believe in what he is doing.