Summary and Analysis
Book One: Chapter VII
While driving his ambulance, the narrator encounters a fellow American, an infantryman fighting with the Italians who wants to be excused from combat because of the pain caused by a hernia. The narrator concocts a scheme: The infantryman should intentionally injure himself in the head. The American does so. Later, while writing home from his quarters, the narrator muses about alternatives to his situation and fantasizes about sex with Catherine Barkley in a hotel room in Milan. In the officers' mess on his way to see Catherine, the narrator gets drunk (it is at this point in the narrative that we finally learn his name: Frederic Henry) while the officers once again torment the priest. As a result, Henry shows too late to see Catherine; he goes home feeling "lonely and hollow."
Again Lieutenant Henry's desertion is foreshadowed, as he agrees with the soldier from Pittsburgh that they are engaged in a "rotten" war, then suggests (apparently without any guilt) a means by which the infantryman can opt out of the fighting. This episode is significant because it shows us that disillusionment with the war is not limited to Henry himself.
The narrator's name, incidentally, may allude to the protagonist of the American antiwar novel The Red Badge of Courage, whose war wound was as absurd as the Lieutenant's will be. Hemingway greatly admired that book's writer, Stephen Crane. The writer's refusal to reveal Henry's name until now is another strategy by which the protagonist's Everyman status is emphasized. It also stresses the faceless, interchangeable nature of soldiers in wartime; to those in charge, Hemingway seems to be saying, one ambulance driver is as good as any other, and all are merely bodies.
The naivete about the war exhibited by Henry in earlier scenes with Catherine Barkley is made explicit here: "Well, I knew I would not be killed," he thinks. "Not in this war. It did not have anything to do with me. It seemed no more dangerous to me myself than war in the movies." Again, Catherine knows that the war is very real as a result of having lost her fiancé to the fighting, but Henry has had no such experience — yet. She also knows what Henry will learn: His detachment and lack of fear do not mean that the realities and dangers of the war do not exist or that he is immune to them.
Once more, Henry does not participate in the tormenting of the priest. He perhaps recognizes that the chaplain stands for something, unlike the cynical, nihilistic officers who taunt him. Henry himself doesn't believe in much of anything yet, but his refusal to join in the ritual of priest-baiting shows us that he respects those who do and that he has potential in this regard.
Stylistically, Hemingway combines the short, declarative sentences for which he is best known with Joycean stream-of-consciousness in Frederick's reverie about sharing a Milan hotel room with Catherine. Note that although the emphasis seems to be on the sexual, Henry says that "we would both love each other all night": an unconscious admission of his deepening feelings toward her. Still, he is uncommitted enough at this point in the story that he can miss an evening with Catherine altogether because he is drinking with his fellow officers. On the other hand, he does regret doing so afterwards. Henry is growing, and growing closer to Catherine.
smistimento (Italian) sorting or shunting place.
brigata (Italian) brigade.
spile a heavy stake or timber driven into the ground as a foundation or support.
horse ambulance an ambulance drawn by horses.
hernia the protrusion of all or part of an organ through a tear in the wall of the surrounding structure; especially, the protrusion of part of the intestine through the abdominal muscles; a rupture.
Zona di Guerra (Italian) war zone.
Il Generale Cadorna Italian general.
Aosta the Valle d'Aosta, a region of northwest Italy.
Black Forest a wooded mountain region in southwest Germany.
Carpathians the Carpathian Mountains, a mountain system in central Europe, extending southeast from south Poland through the Czech Republic and Ukraine into northeast Romania.
Via Manzoni a street in Milan.
capri bianca an Italian white wine.
Archbishop Ireland American archbishop, apparently, with whose case Henry is unfamiliar.
Béziers a city in south France.
Bacchus the Roman god of wine and revelry; identified with the Greek Dionysus.
. . . Frederico Enrico or Enrico Federico? Bassi wants to know if the Lieutenant's name is Frederic Henry or Henry Frederic. (It is the former.)
cypress an evergreen, cone-bearing tree, with dark foliage and a distinctive symmetrical form.