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The plot involves five Italian soldiers and one American, the narrator, as they recover from wounds sustained in battle during war. Given this setting, the plot centers on the struggles of the soldiers as they cope with what they have been through. Being in the war, they have witnessed death. Following this experience, the narrator (American) considers the implications of their immediate situation in Milan visiting the hospital and how this experience in the war might affect the rest of their lives.
At the beginning of the story, the narrator notes, "In the fall the war was always there, but we did not go to it anymore." A few pages in, he repeats, "We only knew then that there was always the war, but that we were not going to it any more." The narrator can not escape the war; even though he is away from the front in recovery, he can only think about how to avoid the war that is "always" there. The narrator, and presumably the other soldiers, are overcome by what they've experienced in the war. They feel "detached," from the life that they knew prior to the war, but they also feel a bond because of that experience:
We were all a little detached, and there was nothing that held us together except that we met every afternoon at the hospital.
. . . we felt held together by there being something that had happened that they, the people who disliked us, did not understand.
The narrator feels a bit more alienated since he is in "another country," but the implication for all of the soldiers is that being in a war is like being in another country. Witnessing death and violence, these soldiers have seen a world/country that most have not.
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