Summary and Analysis
Book Three: Chapter XXVII
Lieutenant Henry reconnoiters the area. That night the Austrians (and, as later becomes evident, the Germans) begin an offensive, bombarding the Italian forces and eventually breaking through the Italian lines near Caporetto. The Italians begin to retreat, and the ambulance drivers prepare to travel to Pordenone, beyond the Tagliamento River.
The entry of the Germans is a turning point in the narrative. Lieutenant Henry tells us, "The word Germans was something to be frightened of. We did not want to have anything to do with the Germans."
The mountains-plains dichotomy is further developed, as Henry tells the driver named Gino that he does not believe a war can be fought and won in the mountains. Thus the mountains emerge here not only as a place of purity versus the corruption of the plains, but as a place of refuge, as well. This will be important later in the story.
"What has been done this summer cannot have been done in vain," Gino tells Henry. He refers to the fighting, but the statement has a double meaning for the reader, applying to the love shared by Henry and Catherine Barkley, as well.
One long paragraph in this chapter summarizes Henry's character and a theme of the novel: "I was always embarrassed by the words sacred, glorious, and sacrifice and the expression in vain," Henry tells us. "Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and the dates." The words Henry mentions, which he might have used himself at the story's beginning, now ring hollow as a result of his actual wartime experience.
Hemingway has struggled in A Farewell to Arms to write a new kind of war story, and here he makes that effort explicit. This paragraph explicitly states the writer's stylistic credo, as well. Throughout his writing career, Hemingway always favored the concrete over the abstract, the specific over the vague. And his radical preference for the concrete and the specific remains, perhaps, his greatest stylistic legacy — far more influential than his use of a limited vocabulary or simple and/or compound, rather than complex, sentences.
Notice that it rains almost continuously during this chapter, during which the tide turns and the Italians begin to retreat in the face of the Austrian-German onslaught. The rain turns to snow one evening, holding out hope that the offensive will cease, but it quickly melts and the rain resumes. During a discussion among the drivers about the wine they are drinking with dinner, the driver named Aymo says, "To-morrow maybe we drink rainwater." Hemingway has by this time developed the rain symbolism to such a degree that the reader experiences a genuine sense of foreboding.
dolce (Italian) dessert.
Lom town near the border between present-day Bulgaria and Romania.
Ternova ridge in present-day Slovenia.
Babbitting metal a soft white metal of tin, lead, copper, and antimony in various proportions, used to reduce frictions as in bearings.
Croat a person born or living in Croatia, a country in southeast Europe that was at one time part of Austria-Hungary.
Magyar a member of the people constituting the main ethnic group in Hungary.
"Alto piano . . . but no piano" (Italian) "Upland plain . . . but no plain."
Brindisi a seaport in Apulia, southeast Italy, on the Adriatic.
dogfish any of various small sharks. Lieutenant Henry means to be insulting.
Pordenone a town in northeast Italy, between the Piave and Tagliamento Rivers.
monkey suit (slang) a uniform.
"We may drink — " As before, the dash replaces an obscenity, in this case a slang reference to urine, most likely.
"Tomorrow maybe we'll sleep in — " The dash replaces an obscenity.
Tagliamento a river in the Venetia region of northeast Italy, to the west of Udine, that flows south to the Adriatic Sea.