Chapter 32 Summary
Henry tries to get comfortable on the floor of the flat car. His clothes are wet and cold, and he is hungry. He thinks about his reconstructed knee and how little trouble it has given him. He no long considers it to be his knee but the doctor’s. His (empty) stomach and his head are his alone. His head, however, cannot be used to think, only to remember—but not too much. He thinks of Catherine, but realizes that if he thinks about her too much he will go crazy. He fantasizes about lying with her on the floor of the flat car, under the canvas covering. He is overwhelmed with feelings of loneliness.
He thinks about the progression and regression of the war, one side winning, then the other side winning. He thinks of his lost ambulances and his lost men. He compares his situation to that of a department store floorwalker who loses his stock in a fire. There is no fire insurance, and the floorwalker is out of the business without obligation. They don’t shoot floorwalkers because they don’t have an Italian accent as they do soldiers. If they did, then the floorwalkers would not be expected to return to the store following the fire when it is opened for business once more. The floorwalker would be free to find another position, as long as there is other employment and the police do not get him first.
Henry has deserted the Italian army, but he is not angry. His time in the river washed away his anger and his obligation. He has cut the stars off of his uniform that marked him as an officer. He would get rid of his uniform if he could. It is not that he is against the honor of being an officer, but he is through with the army. This is his “farewell to arms.” He wishes the remaining soldiers good luck, but it is no longer his fight. He wishes the train would take him to Mestre so that he can eat and stop thinking.
Henry thinks that Piani will tell the officials that Henry was shot. However, since they take the papers of the individuals they shoot, perhaps they will take the position that Henry was drowned in the river. Henry wonders what will be reported to his family back home, perhaps “dead from wounds and other causes.” He wonders what has become of Rinaldi and the priest. He does not think that Rinaldi has syphilis, plus it is not that serious if caught in time. Henry thinks that the only thing he was made for was to eat and drink and sleep with Catherine. He contemplates where the two of them will go; they will have to go someplace outside of Italy.