First of all, our narrator is not only figuratively in another country due to being taken out of combat; he is also literally in another country – he is an American, fighting in Europe, his wounds being treated in Italy. And while at first this doesn’t distinguish him much from...
First of all, our narrator is not only figuratively in another country due to being taken out of combat; he is also literally in another country – he is an American, fighting in Europe, his wounds being treated in Italy. And while at first this doesn’t distinguish him much from the others, when his wounded friends learn that his medal was given him because he had been wounded (we can assume he received a Purple Heart) rather than for valor, a small chasm opens up between him and the others. He states that “After that their manner changed a little toward me….I was a friend, but I was never really one of them after they had read the citations, because it had been different with them and they had done very different things to get their medals.” The narrator is somewhat alienated from the other wounded soldiers, because he comes from a place and a military very differently organized from their own, and does not seem to have exhibited the same degree of bravery and patriotism as the others.
The American is further set apart when he realizes that he could never have done the deeds the others did to earn their medals – at night, he admits to himself that he is “very much afraid to die.” In this manner, he says, his medaled friends were like “hunting hawks,” fierce and well-trained – he was not. This is another facet of the “other country” the American finds himself in – where these men have and display these qualities, our narrator does not. And so he remains friends with a young soldier who had not had time to prove himself before being wounded, and must let the others go; they have been trained differently, they have behaved differently in the war, their ideologies seem to be more clear-cut and draconian – the American and the young soldier are in a different league, and do not hold the same things objectively dear.
The major with the wounded hand at the hospital is isolated in yet another way – he has been made victim of one of the ironies of war – that is, he has survived, and his wife, who remained at home, has not. He is alienated by his grief, and while all the soldier must deal with the loss of their physical capabilities, the potential loss of friends and leaders, the major must also deal with the very real loss of one whom he believed to be in no danger. A soldier “cannot marry,” he tells the narrator. “He cannot marry…If he is to lose everything, he should not place himself in a position to lose that.” The major can hardly bear his grief, and so we see he is stuck in another country as well, and a bitterly ironic one – whereas in war those left at home are usually the ones who must grieve, here we have a wartime major grieving for the one he left at home.
All these isolating factors are illustrations of how war affects the individual – a person can lose the full function of a leg, can lose a nose; wounds can draw them together, and yet even away from the war they are touched by its promises – by the politics, by the ideologies, by death. To a certain extent these things are a part of life. In war as well as in civilian life, what we believe and how strongly we believe it determine our friends and our achievements; relationships are built and come to sudden, unexpected ends; we struggle to reconcile our continued existence with the promise of an end. And in each country, within each individual, circumstances and expectations color these things differently. Each person has his own losses and his own struggles, and, especially in war, each person must face these things alone, together.