In Another Country

by Ernest Hemingway

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Style and Technique

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Hemingway tells the story from the point of view of the young American, but in the objective or pseudo-third person. By telling the story from the American’s point of view yet not making him the narrator, Hemingway manages to objectify and distance the surface of the narrative without affecting the intimacy established between the reader and the American.

The restraint with which the characters experience and voice their emotions is reinforced by the stylistic restraints that Hemingway imposes on his narrative. The central issue of the story, that courage is necessary for life as well as death, is not revealed until the end, when the doctor explains the tragedy of the death of the major’s young wife. The major’s intense grief at his wife’s death is conveyed by language that avoids labeling the emotion he feels: “The photographs did not make much difference to the major because he only looked out of the window.” The American may or may not understand the major’s bitter loss, but the reader inevitably perceives the major’s emotional wound and his courage in not giving up.

Hemingway uses images to suggest the feelings of his characters; the emotions of the characters are conveyed indirectly by what they see. The mood or tone of the story is established in the first paragraph, in which the dead game outside the shops is described as “stiff,” “heavy,” and “empty.” The American’s awareness of death controls the way he experiences the streets of Milan. Death is a haunting refrain playing quietly under the surface of the narrative. Though the hospital is “very old and very beautiful,” the American observes: “There were usually funerals starting from the courtyard.”

Irony is used quietly, but with force. The American comments that the wounded men are all very polite when they go to sit in “the machines that were to make so much difference.” Because these men are the first to use the machines, the photographs of restored limbs that the doctor first shows the men and then puts on the wall do not inspire great confidence. The machines are not likely to restore their limbs; in any case, nothing can ease the internal wounds epitomized by the suffering of the major.

In spite of his lack of confidence in the machines, the major continues to come to sit in them, even after his wife’s death. His regular attendance is like his interest in having the young American learn grammar. The major’s discipline and courage in the face of almost certain defeat are powerfully underscored because they are never overtly mentioned.

Historical Context

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Ernest Hemingway’s story ‘‘In Another Country’’ takes place in a war hospital in Milan during World War I. The war began in 1914 when Archduke Franz Ferdinand, a member of the Hapsburg family, the rulers of what was then known as the Austro-Hungarian empire, was assassinated while on an official state visit to the city of Sarajevo in Bosnia. His killer was a young Bosnian Serb, Gavrilo Princip, a member of a secret underground organization who protested the Austro-Hungarian empire’s claim over their country. When the Austro-Hungarians demanded entrance to Bosnia so they could find and then bring to trial Ferdinand’s assassin, the Bosnian government refused, insisting they would conduct their own investigation. The Austro-Hungarians then declared war on Bosnia. Quickly, Germany allied with the Austro-Hungarian empire, while Russia France and Great Britain allied with Bosnia, with Italy soon to follow.

The United States joined World War I at the end of 1917. A German submarine had torpedoed a British passenger ship, the Lusitania, claiming it secretly carried American munitions aboard. The United States denied this, but joined the fray when the British and French requested their assistance. Most American soldiers were initially stationed on the Western Front, in France. Believing the American army to be inexperienced and, according to Hemingway, ‘‘overfed and under trained,’’ the Germans immediately attacked. To much of the world’s surprise, the Americans, despite being outnumbered and lacking experience, fought off the German army, solidifying their reputation as a world military power. The United States and its allies won the war in 1918. About 118,000 American soldiers were killed in action, more than double the 55,000 lost in World War II a generation later.

Hemingway wrote ‘‘In Another Country’’ while residing in Paris in 1926. There he lived among a circle of writers and poets, many of whom would go on to be among the most prominent literary figures of the century. Expatriates like himself, these authors included F. Scott Fitzgerald Sherwood Anderson John Dos Passos Thornton Wilder Ezra Pound e. e. cummings and Hart Crane, along with Gertrude Stein and her lover, Alice B. Toklas, whose salon was a common meeting ground for the group. Coined ‘‘The Lost Generation’’ by Stein, these writers came to Paris in search of inspiration and a new understanding of the boundaries and purpose of art. Malcolm Cowley, one of their clique, wrote about this period in his book Exile’s Return. A collection of Hemingway’s anecdotes of this experience was published posthumously under the title A Moveable Feast in 1964.

Literary Style

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Point of View
All of the events that occur in ‘‘In Another Country’’ are told from the point of view of the story’s unnamed narrator, an American officer receiving physical therapy in a Milan hospital on his leg, which has been wounded at the front during World War I. The narrator is a young man, presumably about 19, the same age as the author when he also spent time in a Milan hospital, recovering from leg injuries received while working as an ambulance driver for the Red Cross. The events are filtered through the narrator’s perspective, therefore the first person ‘‘T’’ is used throughout. How these events affect the narrator, particularly those which are written about in the greatest detail, like the major’s disillusionment following the death of his wife, is not directly revealed. However, it is apparent that what he has witnessed has made a strong impact on him because he has chosen to recount the story so vividly. Readers may assume it is an older narrator who is telling the story, as it is written in the past tense.

One of the most distinctive aspects of this story, and most of Hemingway’s literature, particularly his many stories about this same narrator—unnamed here, but known as Nick Adams elsewhere—is its objective tone. Though the story is told from the narrator’s perspective, how they affect him is never made explicit. Instead, each of the events is described almost in the way a journalist reports a newspaper story, with as little subjectivity, or personal interjection, as possible. One way this is achieved is by using very few adjectives. This is done to avoid manipulating the reader’s imagination. The specific details of each event are recorded in an objective way, leaving the readers to put the pieces together; this way readers can discover their own interpretation of what the events mean. This distinctive style, perfected by Hemingway, has been widely imitated and greatly praised, though it has its share of detractors as well.

Existentialism is a philosophy concerned with the meaning of existence. One of the aspects of this philosophy is the isolation of the individual, a condition all human beings must face at some time. The Italian major comprehends this after the unexpected death of his wife to pneumonia. When he returns to the hospital to continue the machine treatments on his hand soon after her passing, the narrator observes the major struggle to maintain his previous soldierly posture as he stares out the window. It has been implied by scholars that, having lost his innocent belief that loss can be minimized through discipline and precision, what the major sees out that window is life’s vast emptiness. He is coming to terms with the fact that all connections are eventually lost, especially through death, and that life carries with it a sense of its own meaninglessness. This knowledge is one of the cornerstones of the existentialist philosophy, and it can be found in much of Hemingway’s literature.

There are several examples of symbolism throughout the story. One such symbol is the window the major looks out of following the death of his wife. Previously, he looked at a wall while receiving his machine therapy. But, after his wife’s death, he stares out the window instead. The major, at this point, is no longer emotionally walled in; he is open, vulnerable. The window symbolizes this opening inside him. The machines also have symbolic significance. Though utilized by the patients, the men know that they are probably ineffective; yet, they still return to them day after day, following the regime their use requires. Humans each follow their own daily regimes, hoping that they, too, are useful, purposeful. However, the story suggests, this is unlikely. The machines are an external symbol of life’s probable futility, a condition which becomes apparent to the major after his tragic loss.

Irony occurs when the outcome of an event contrasts the intention of what has come before it. A particularly strong example of this can be seen with the Italian major. He has lived his life carefully, following a strict military code which has helped him maintain emotional control even while having to confront death, his own and that of others, nearly every day while at war. He depends on this, believes it will save him from being unprepared for great loss. Ironically, this man who believes he is in control of his life, soon learns, via the death of his wife, that his composure, his military precision worn like armor, cannot protect him from personal tragedy. This irony changes his life, and brings out many of the story’s major themes.

Media Adaptations

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  • Hemingway’s Adventures of a Young Man is a film which assimilates the author’s Nick Adams stories into a single narrative. Adapted by A. E. Hotchner, directed by Martin Ritt, starring Richard Beymer (best known as Tony in the film musical West Side Story) as Nick, produced by DeLuxe, 1962.
  • The Killers begins as a nearly word-by-word film adaptation of the Nick Adams story of the same name. In the story, Nick is in a diner as two killers come in looking for a man called Andersson. The film then segues into an original drama about Andersson. Nick is featured in one of these later scenes. Screenplay by Anthony Veiller, directed by Richard Siodmak (Academy Award nomination, best director), starring Burt Lancaster (film debut), Edmond O’Brien, and Ava Gardner. U-I, 1946.
  • The film In Love and War chronicles 19 year-old Hemingway’s recovery in an Italian hospital from the wounds he received driving an ambulance during World War I. The film focuses on his love affair with a 26 year-old nurse, the woman who is said to have inspired the character Catherine Barkeley in Hemingway’s novel A Farewell to Arms. Chris O’Donnell plays the young Hemingway; Sandra Bullock portrays the nurse. Richard Attenborough directed. A New Line Cinema release, 1996.
  • Hemingway’s novel A Farewell to Arms, a fictional version of the same love affair featured in In Love and War, has been filmed twice, first in 1932 by director Frank Borzage, starring Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes, a Paramount Picture; then in 1957, starring Rock Hudson and Jennifer Jones, directed by Charles Vidor, a De Luxe release.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Baker, Carlos, ed. Ernest Hemingway: Selected Letters, 1917-1961. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1981, p. 948.

Irwin, Richard. “‘Of War Wounds, and Silly Machines’: An Examination of Hemingway’s ‘In Another Country.’” In The Serif, Vol. V, No. 2, June, 1968, pp. 21-29.

Mast, Gerald. A Short History of the Movies, 2nd ed. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Educational Publishing, 1978, p. 575.

Robinson, Forrest. ‘‘Hemingway’s Invisible Hero in ‘In Another Country.’” In Essay in Literature, Vol. XV, No. 2, Fall, 1988, pp. 237-44.

Rovit, Earl. ‘‘Of Human Dignity: ‘In Another Country.’” In The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway: Critical Essays, edited by Jackson J. Benson. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1975, pp. 58-68.

Steinke, James. ‘‘Hemingway’s ‘In Another Country’ and ‘Now I Lay Me.’” In The Hemingway Review, Vol. V, No. 1, Fall, 1985.

Further Reading
Baker, Carlos, ed. Ernest Hemingway: Selected Letters, 1917-1961. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1981, p. 948. Collection of letters written by Hemingway to family members, friends, and colleagues including prominent literary figures as F. Scott Fitzgerald Archibald MacLeish, and John Dos Passos, as well as his editor, Maxwell Perkins.

Rovit, Earl. ‘‘Of Human Dignity: ‘In Another Country.’” In The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway: Critical Essays, edited by Jackson J. Benson. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1975, pp. 58-68. Rovit argues that the Major in ‘‘In Another Country” represents ‘‘Hemingway’s attempt to retain the ideal of dignity without falsifying the ignobility of the modern human condition.”

Steinke, James. ‘‘Hemingway’s ‘In Another Country’ and ‘Now I Lay Me.’” In The Hemingway Review, Vol. V, No. 1, Fall, 1985. Steinke compares the two short stories in the title of his article, arguing that, despite external similarities, they are actually very different.

Waldhorn, Arthur. A Reader’s Guide to Ernest Hemingway. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1972, p. 284. A collection of essays discussing Hemingway’s major works.


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Benson, Jackson J., ed. New Critical Approaches to the Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1990.

Berman, Ronald. Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and the Twenties. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2001.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Ernest Hemingway. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2005.

Burgess, Anthony. Ernest Hemingway. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1999.

Flora, Joseph M. Ernest Hemingway: A Study of the Short Fiction. Boston: Twayne, 1989.

Hays, Peter L. Ernest Hemingway. New York: Continuum, 1990.

Hotchner, A. E. Papa Hemingway: A Personal Memoir. New ed. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1999.

Meyers, Jeffrey. Hemingway: A Biography. 1985. Reprint. New York: Da Capo Press, 1999.

Padura Fuentes, Leonardo. Adiós Hemingway. Translated by John King. New York: Canongate, 2005.

Reynolds, Michael. The Young Hemingway. New York: Blackwell, 1986.

Reynolds, Michael. Hemingway: The Paris Years. New York: Blackwell, 1989.

Reynolds, Michael. Hemingway: The Homecoming. New York: W. W. Norton, 1999.

Reynolds, Michael. Hemingway: The 1930’s. New York: W. W. Norton, 1997.

Reynolds, Michael. Hemingway: The Final Years. New York: W. W. Norton, 1999.

Rovit, Earl, and Arthur Waldhorn, eds. Hemingway and Faulkner in Their Time. New York: Continuum, 2005.

Wagner-Martin, Linda, ed. Hemingway: Seven Decades of Criticism. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1998.

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Critical Essays