How Claeys Died Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

A Belgian named Claeys, temporarily attached to the British army on a civilian mission, is riding in Germany with two officers and a driver two months after the end of World War II. He is a teacher who has volunteered to assist in the rehabilitation of the enemy. He is traveling to one of the camps of displaced persons, mostly Slavs, from a German forced-labor camp.

The car drives through a verdant landscape, where vegetation is already camouflaging the evidence of war, burying the carcasses of abandoned war machines in grass and vines. However, there is also a bombed-out town that is quite dead, grim evidence of humanity’s power to bring a total disorder that at least temporarily defeats every effort of nature to restore life.

As the car approaches the area of the labor camp, the riders hear a chorus of men singing Slavic songs and a large group preparing, apparently, to march home. The driver advances cautiously with a hand on his gun; there has been trouble recently between the former inmates and a former German soldier returning to his farm. However, expatriates generally respect the English military. Claeys says that he wants to speak to these men and asks the driver to leave him there alone, drive out of sight around the bend, and wait.

The expatriates approach Claeys, uncertain about who he is and what he wants. Claeys smiles and speaks to them in English, but they obviously do not understand. Then he tries French—again...

(The entire section is 484 words.)