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The soldiers in Hemingway's short story include the narrator, the major, three "boys" from Milan, and a fifth young soldier whose face had been severely disfigured in battle. All of them have been wounded in World War I, both physically and emotionally; all of them receive treatment at the same hospital. The narrator and the major are developed in the story, while the others are secondary characters, acquaintances with whom the narrator sometimes drinks at the Cova, a local bar frequented by cafe girls.
These wounded soldiers live very limited lives. The war goes on, but they "were not going to it any more [sic]." The major, who makes friends only with the narrator, struggles in emotional isolation to rehabilitate injuries that he knows won't be corrected, and he endures the death of his young wife. The narrator has no life except working at the hospital to heal his own injuries and drinking at the Cova. The three boys from Milan live in the same way. The soldier whose face had been disfigured had undergone corrective surgery and moved to South America to work in a bank.
The narrator and the three soldiers with whom he drinks at the Cova feel bound together by their war experiences; they are outsiders in the town, and because of having been to the war, they feel cut off from everyone else around them. They all feel "a little detached," which surely is an understatement. Because the narrator had not earned his medals in combat, as had the other three, eventually they "drifted apart."
The story suggests that these soldiers live in a suspended state of isolation, cut off from life by their physical and emotional wounds. Only the major is tied to life through his love for his wife, and he loses even that. As Hemingway develops the story, it would not be possible for anyone to live in a very positive manner in these circumstances.
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