The Anatomy of Desire Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Hanley has been flayed by the enemy and is unable to find anyone to love him; not even his wife and children will spend time with him because he is raw, and he will never be any better. Only one nurse, known as the saint, stays with him and applies blood retardant to his flesh. Although he does not find the woman pretty, he does find her saintly. He asks her to love him, to possess him. She says that she will perhaps love him if sometime she finds out that she must.

The narrator recalls how Hanley’s flaying occurred. He was sleeping in a trench when soldiers found him and brought him back to their camp to serve as an example of what happens to infiltrators. When Hanley was taken to the general’s tent, he captivated the general, who caressed his skin, saying that he had a beautiful face. He apparently performed a sexual act with his prisoner. When Hanley was led out for his punishment, the general told the men who carry the knives to spare Hanley here and there because he could be his own son. Hanley’s face and genitals were spared but the rest of his skin was flayed and hung on the barbed wire. Hanley was left to die, but after the enemy retreated, he was taken by his own unit to the hospital, where he met the nurse.

After some time passes, the nurse agrees to make love with Hanley. While they are in bed, he decides he does not miss his wife and children; in fact, he does not even miss his skin. The nurse, meanwhile, whispers to Hanley...

(The entire section is 541 words.)