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In the short story “In Another Country” Ernest Hemingway explores the differences between American and Italian soldiers’ conceptualizations of the physical and emotional tolls of World War I. In particular, the story shows that the long-term consequences of war are more significant and far-reaching for Italian soldiers, because they are fighting close to home. While both Americans and Europeans risk their lives during combat, the Europeans must also defend against the larger threat against their home countries. This is shown in the story by Hemingway’s subtle portrayal of the damaging effects that the war has on the cultural and domestic lives of the Italians. By contrasting the unnerving effects that the prospect of such damage has on the Italians with the American soldier’s lack of connection to the country, the story shows that the archetypal European soldier of the First World War has more at stake in the war than his American counterparts from overseas.
In order to emphasize the American narrator’s oblivious disconnection from the long-term domestic effects of the war, Hemingway characterizes him as a more of a tourist figure than a real soldier. This is the reason his undeserved medals, which serve more as costuming than recognition, are given such focus. It is also why he is allowed to make inane comments about the local chestnut vendors and the “patriotism” of the girls at the Cova. Perhaps the most capturing aspect of his tourist characterization is his relationship with the Italian language, which speaks to his relationship with the country; it is superficial and dismissive, and he admits this in saying, “Italian seemed such an easy language… that I could not take a great interest in it”. After this statement prompts the local major to suggest that he learn grammar, he goes about the task lazily, which angers the major. This shows that he has no interest in connecting with the local culture linguistically or in any greater sense, because he feels no true stake in its existence after the war.
By contrast, the details revealed about the Italian soldiers emphasize their cultural connections to Italy. In particular, the details relating to their injuries show that even the immediate physical tolls of the war have far-reaching cultural ramifications for them. Thus, the major’s shrunken hand becomes the undoing of “the greatest fencer in Italy” and the private’s destroyed nose a partial erasure of his connection to “a very old family”. The death of the major’s wife, while not directly a result of the war, reminds him of the proximity of his domestic life to the war: when war occurs on your own soil, domestic tragedies and wartime tragedies become inseparable. This emphasis on proximity of domestic life to the war reminds us that the Italian soldiers do not have the luxury of running home after the war, because they are already there. The American narrator, however, can still go back “to the States” to find a wife and live his “real life” in a society far away from the war’s ravages.
Thus, at the end of the story, the major’s repeated phrase, “I am utterly unable to resign myself” has a double meaning. On one hand it expresses the irresolvability of his grief. On the other hand, it expresses an inability to ever really leave the war. The major knows that even when the conflict is over, its effects will have permeated his country and his culture forever. This is why, despite the fact that they are both caught up in the same military machine, the two soldiers conceptualize the war so differently. The American is very much a tourist figure with no stake in the effects of the war on Italy, but when the Italian major stares out of the window of the hospital, it is his own country he sees under threat. Thus, we as readers feel empathetic regret and helplessness for the major, who not only has to resolve a compromising of his physical safety, but his sense of domestic and cultural safety as well.
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