Summary and Analysis
Book Three: Chapter XXVIII
The ambulance drivers retreat from the enemy attack in a long, slow-moving column of vehicles. They pick up two Italian engineer-sergeants and two teenage girls. Falling asleep in the car, Lieutenant Henry dreams of Catherine Barkley. Finally, the ambulances pull off the main road and stop at an abandoned farmhouse, where Henry and the others scavenge breakfast.
In Hemingway's description of the retreat from Caporetto, he focuses on the concrete and specific: a sewing machine in the back of a cart, for instance.
In terms of the narrative, the two Italian sergeants picked up by one of the ambulances will prove central in the story to come. Innocuous-seeming at first, they begin to appear sinister at chapter's end, when it appears they haven't shared their breakfast with the others at the abandoned farmhouse. Lieutenant Henry's alienation from the cause is emphasized by the sergeants' disbelief that he is not Italian-American. Instead he is described as "North American English," which reminds the reader of his bond with the British Catherine Barkley. Indeed, Lieutenant Henry thinks and then dreams of her, a reminder of the novel's love angle as well as a recapitulation of the Joycean stream-of-consciousness style that Hemingway employs periodically.
"A retreat was no place for two virgins," Henry tells the reader, subtly reminding us of Hemingway's love-sex-war-death continuum. Someone with no sexual experience is especially vulnerable in wartime, the writer seems to be telling us. Of course, everyone is vulnerable, as Henry reminds the reader mid-way through the chapter; if the weather clears, a slow-moving column of vehicles will be pitifully unprotected from the bombs of enemy planes. From the safety and security of the American hospital in Milan, we have been transported in a few short chapters to a life-and-death situation.
Sorella (Italian) sister.
"Blow, blow, ye western wind . . . Christ, that my love were in my arms and I in my bed again. That my love Catherine. That my sweet love Catherine down might rain. Blow her again to me." Falling asleep in the cab of the ambulance, Lieutenant Henry recites to himself a garbled version of a poem from the sixteenth century, the author of which is unknown. The best-known lines from this poem are as follows: "O Western wind, when wilt thou blow,/That the small rain down can rain?/Christ, that my love were in my arms/And I in my bed again!" Note the portentous rain imagery.