Summary and Analysis
Book One: Chapter II
A year passes, one in which there were "many victories." As a result, the side of the narrator (still identified only as "we") advances across a river and occupies a captured enemy town, Gorizia.
Evidently it is World War I, and the action in this chapter takes place in the Alps around the frontier between Italy and present-day Slovenia. Allied with Britain, France, and Russia against the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Germany, Italy is responsible for preventing the Austro-Hungarian forces from assisting the Germans in their fight against Britain and France on the war's western front, and Russia in the east.
Now Hemingway begins to introduce his cast of characters. During dinner in the officers' mess, on the night of winter's first snowfall, the narrator's fellow officers taunt the priest, their chaplain — though, significantly, the narrator himself does not join in the baiting. The Italian officers recommend that the narrator spend his forthcoming leave in a variety of low-lying Italian towns and cities, while the priest suggests he travel to the mountains.
In this chapter, the writer introduces another dichotomy paralleling that of the mountains versus the plains: the church and the brothel. The two dynamics intersect when the priest invites the narrator to visit his mountain hometown while on leave. The officers scoff at this suggestion: "He doesn't want to see peasants," one says. "Let him go to centres of culture and civilization." Another officer then offers the addresses of whorehouses in Naples. To these men, civilization and sex are one and the same, but the priest is offering the narrator a different, more spiritual, way of living.
It was a fact of pre- and early-modern warfare that fighting became impossible when it snowed. Therefore snow equals peace to Henry and his compatriots, as it will late in the novel — although that peace is never more than temporary. Here snow covers the bare ground and even the artillery, but the stumps of the oak trees torn up by the summer's fighting continue to protrude from the blanket of white. Thus snow is merely a reprieve, a cease-fire.
Gorizia a town in present-day northeast Italy, on the Isonzo River. At the time during which the story takes place, it lay within the boundaries of Austria-Hungary.
wistaria a twining woody vine or shrub of the pea family, with fruits that are pods and showy clusters of bluish, white, pink or purplish flowers.
bawdy house a house of prostitution.
Asti a wine from the city of the same name in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy.
mess a group of people who regularly have their meals together.
spaghetti course Sometimes called the primo piatto, or first course, it follows the antipasto in a traditional Italian meal and precedes the secundo piatto, or entrée.
tannic tasting of tannins absorbed from grape skins and seeds and from oak barrels; somewhat bitter or astringent.
five against one (slang) masturbating.
pidgin a mixed language, or jargon, incorporating the vocabulary of one or more languages with a very simplified form of the grammatical system of one of these and not used as the main language of any of its speakers.
Pope Pope Benedict XV (d. 1922), pope from 1914-22.
Franz Joseph (d. 1916) emperor of Austria (1848-1916) and king of Hungary (1867-1916).
Free Mason a member of an international secret society having as its principles brotherliness, charity, and mutual aid.
Amalfi a town in south Italy, on the Gulf of Salerno.
Palermo a seaport and the capital of Sicily, on the north coast.
Capri an island near the entrance to the Bay of Naples.
Abruzzi a region of central Italy, on the Adriatic Sea.
Capracotta a village in the Abruzzi region.
sotto-tenente (Italian) second lieutenant.
tenente (Italian) lieutenant.
capitano (Italian) captain.
maggiore (Italian) major.
tenente-colonello (Italian) lieutenant-colonel.
Caruso (1873-1921) Enrico, world-famous Italian operatic tenor.