Summary and Analysis Book Two: Chapter XV



After three doctors together examine Lieutenant Henry's wound and x-rays, they recommend he wait six months before an operation on his leg. Henry seeks a second opinion, and an Italian major named Dr. Valenti proposes operating the following day.


In this chapter, Hemingway dramatizes the contrast between the bureaucratic and the active — similar to that between those who made the war and those who actually fight it. (Nurse Van Campen and Nurse Gage embody this contrast as well.) The three doctors who first examine Lieutenant Henry are clearly incompetent as well as indecisive. Henry tells us that "doctors who fail in the practice of medicine have a tendency to seek one another's company and aid in consultation . . . These were three such doctors." Dr. Valenti, on the other hand, is full of joie de vivre: Henry says that he "laughed all the time" and even agrees to share a drink with Henry, for instance. In some ways, he seems more English than Italian and thus more of a kindred spirit to Henry; Dr. Valenti appreciates Catherine's beauty and says "Cheery oh." Again, the circumstances (incompetent doctors, lack of availability of "other opinions," and so on), not the individual, determine the care that Henry gets. In real life, it is not likely that Dr. Valenti would appear, and Hemingway knew it.

Chapter XV all but overflows with foreshadowing: In the very first paragraph, Henry tells us that the doctor "used a local anaesthetic called something or other 'snow.'" Recall that snow is all that forestalls combat in this war, and bear the symbolism of snow in mind during the last third of A Farewell to Arms, when it provides another kind of reprieve. Also remember Dr. Valenti's offer, "I will do all your maternity work free . . . She will make you a fine boy," he says of Catherine.


Ospedale Maggiore (Italian) Great Hospital.

articulation a joint between bones.

synovial fluid the clear albuminous lubricating fluid secreted by the membranes of joint cavities, tendon sheaths, etc.

Cheery oh Dr. Valentini is trying to ingratiate himself with Catherine through the use of the British expression "cheerio." Hemingway's spelling indicates that his pronunciation isn't quite idiomatic.