Summary and Analysis Book One: Chapter V



The narrator calls on Miss Barkley and is told by the head nurse at the hospital that she is on duty. He examines the preparations being made for the planned Italian offensive against the Austrians, and while he reconnoiters the area, four Austrian shells explode nearby. After dinner the narrator visits Miss Barkley again, and they kiss.


After what seems like token resistance on her part, the affair between the narrator and Miss Barkley begins. Clearly they have different agendas, however. The narrator sees their relationship as a chess game. By contrast, Miss Barkley seems to be projecting her love for her lost fiancé onto the narrator: She cries when they kiss for the first time, begs him to be good to her, and tells him rather enigmatically that "we're going to have a strange life."

The foreshadowing of the narrator's desertion continues in his discussion with the head nurse, who also finds it odd that he enlisted with the Italians. He himself feels uncomfortable giving the Italian salute. During his talk with Miss Barkley, the narrator suggests "Let's drop the war." Her response: "It's very hard. There's no place to drop it." After she slaps him following an attempted kiss, he jokes, "And we have gotten away from the war." She laughs. At this point in the story, Miss Barkley already knows that the war can't simply be "dropped." As the tragic loss of a loved one has taught her, the war has consequences. The narrator, however, is not yet aware of this fact.


rivederci, a rivederla (Italian) until we meet again; goodbye: implies temporary parting.

Plava town on the Isonzo River, in present-day Slovenia.

trench a long, narrow ditch dug by soldiers for cover and concealment, with the removed earth heaped up in front. Protracted trench warfare was characteristic of World War I, especially on the Western Front, in France.

pontoon bridge a temporary bridge supported by flat-bottom boats, or some other floating objects, such as hollow cylinders.

dugout a shelter, as in warfare, dug in the ground or in a hillside.

dressing station a temporary hospital.

grade the degree of rise or descent of a sloping surface.

carabinieri (Italian) military police.

seventy-sevens shells fired by the Austrians.

V.A.D. Volunteer Air Detachment.

cloistered secluded or confined as in a cloister (a monastery or convent).