In Another Country

by Ernest Hemingway

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Analyze the tone of the short story "In Another Country." Which specific words influence the tone of the story? How does the tone impact your overall understanding of the text?

Words such as "cold," "empty," "detached," and "afraid" help to convey a tone that is bleak and supports themes of isolation and loss. In a cold, fall setting during World War I, the ending of "In Another Country" is a reminder that death is often unpredictable.

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In "In Another Country," Hemingway constructs a bleak tone to propel themes of isolation and loss.

The story is set in the fall in Milan, where it is "cold" and "the dark came very early." The wildlife around Milan is described as "stiff" and "empty." The hospital, a place of healing, has "funerals starting from the courtyard," and the constant threat of death presses in on the men who are recovering there.

Although the narrator finds a group of men to spend time with, he notes that they are all "a little detached." As they walk together in the streets, the narrator understands that "the people...disliked us, did not understand." When asked about his medals, the narrator's description conveys that he received them because he is an American, and "after that their manner changed a little toward" him.

The narrator notes that he is "very much afraid to die." He is verbally reprimanded by the major for expressing his desire to marry one day, the major telling him that he is a "fool" and that "he should not place himself in a position to lose." The narrator then learns that the major's wife his just died of pneumonia and that "no one expected her to die."

Hemingway uses bleak and hopeless words in a cold and desolate setting to describe the loss innate in war. Loss and pain surround the men, and just when they feel they have personally survived, the major is forced to confront unexpected and terrible loss in the death of his young wife. The ending of the story enforces the idea that death is often unpredictable, and life can be extinguished in the most improbable of circumstances.

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Taken as a whole, the tone of "In Another Country" could be called dispassionate. The narrator could be said to be offering "reportage" in a journalistic style that allows the emotional impact to come from the reader's own interpretation. For instance, in the first sentence, the narrator says: "In the fall the war was always there, but we did not go to it any more." He does not offer any direct commentary; he simply states the fact that the soldiers are not in combat. 

The reader quickly learns that the story is concerned with injured soldiers at a European hospital and that some die.  Again, this is only observed as: "There were usually funerals starting from the courtyard." There is no description of the fallen, why they fell, who attends them, or whether their deaths mattered.  The funerals are simply presented as part of the landscape.

To better understand how the tone impacts the text, it would be useful to know about what Hemingway called "the iceberg theory." He used this metaphor to communicate his belief that the meaning of the story should be concealed under the surface.  To him, meaning was best conveyed to the reader implicitly. By not coloring the narrative with overt emotions, he allowed the characters and situations to be shaped by the reader's perception. Hemingway knew he did not have to tell the reader that war was devastating, wasteful, and tragic; he could do it by writing sentences like the story's final line: 

"The photographs did not make much difference to the major, because he only looked out of the window."

Hemingway relies on the reader's ability to recognize a man who has been deeply traumatized by loss by describing the vacancy of his gaze and disconnection from the people and machines who try to help him.

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In the opening paragraph, the narrator mentions "cold" twice and also mentions the season (fall) two times. This opening scene contains dead animals hanging outside of the shops. This might be a typical autumn day in Milan. But it is during the war (the narrator notes this). The images of cold and death reflect these aspects of war. So, there is a dark tone to the opening paragraph but Hemingway adds some pleasantness and this perhaps symbolizes the narrator's relief of being away from battle: 

Then the electric lights came on, and it was pleasant along the streets looking in the windows. 

In the first sentence, the narrator says "the war was always there, but we did not go to it anymore." This suggests a conflicting tone. The menace and memory of the war is always present but the narrator and his fellow soldiers are away from it so there is some solace in that. But the presence of the war and its affects override any solace or pleasantness in Milan. 

Although they are away from battle and in a hospital to be cared for, note the sarcasm when the narrator describes the hospital equipment where they "sat in the machines that were to make so much difference." 

The major, in particular, shows bravery and determination even though he has no real hope of a decent recovery. Upon learning that his wife has just died, the major has a slight breakdown. He scolds the narrator for wanting to get married. Note the hopelessness in his rant: 

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

The major, the narrator, and perhaps the others are at this hospital to get better. But there is a prevailing hopelessness initiated by the war that keeps suppressing their spirits. 

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