Explain the characteristics of modernism in the story "In Another Country" by Ernest Hemingway?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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A renowned American Modernist writer, Hemingway touched upon many of the characteristic elements of this movement in his short story "In Another Country":


Like other Modernists, Hemingway does not employ an omniscient narrator; rather, he gives the story first to the American who yet is somewhat ingenuous in his interior monologue characteristic of the Moderns. Then the insights of the major become apparent, and it is he who perceives the nada--the nothingness--of Hemingway; yet, all is presented with an objective tone.


The young American narrator at the beginning declares that the war is present, but "we did not go to it any more"; he and three Milanese soldiers, one of whom is "a little detached," as well as an Italian major take therapy every afternoon.  Injured, they all are alienated from the other soldiers and the combat of the war. Further, there is an alienation from the tragedy of interpersonal relationships that the American does not understand because when he is outside in the cold, he looks in and perceives the interior as warm and wholesome. 

It was cold in the fall in Milan and the dark came very early. Then the electric lights came on, and it was pleasant along the streets looking in the windows.

The reality of life is yet somewhat allusive to the young America, for he only understands the absurdity of war while the "tall boy with a very pale face" is also "a little detached" because he has lived many months with death.


The role of narrator switches to the major, for it is he who understands the darkness of the interior life that the American does not perceive through the window since death in the deer "carcasses stiff and heavy and empty" are for him outdoors.  But, for the major who has lost the use of his great fencing hand as well as his wife, death resides inside. The Hemingway hero of the narrative, the major tells the American, "I am utterly unable to resign myself" and he "looked out of the window" because he sees the nothingness of life within.


Expressing the lack of faith of the Modernists in a technology that they felt would cloud man's thinking, the soldiers do not believe that the therapy will rehabilitate them. The major, especially, is skeptical as the doctor shows him the photograph of a withered hand that is rehabilitated, "he did not believe in the machines."  He simply goes through the motions required of him in his terrible aloneness.


The young American remarks,

We only knew then that there was always the war, but that we were not going to it any more....we felt held together by there being something that had happened that they, the people who disliked us, did not unerstand.

Once the major's wife has died, he is tied to the past in his grief and existential sense of the absurdity and senselessness of life. When he says that a man should not marry, others question him. But, he insists,

"He cannot marry....If he is to lose everything, he should not place himself in a position to lose that....He should find things he cannot lose." 

As the title suggests, the major, along with the other disabled soldiers, now is "in another country,"  a modern world of machines and uncertainty where nothing makes sense and much is already lost--the world of Modernism.



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