After spending two days at “the posts,” Henry visits Catherine again. She asks him if he loves her and he says yes. She tells him to call her by her first name. They walk through the garden, and Catherine expresses how much she loves him and says how awful the past few days have been without him. Henry kisses her, thinking that she is “probably a little crazy,” but not caring. Aware that he does not love Catherine, Henry feels that he is involved in a complicated game, like bridge. To his surprise, she acknowledges their charade, asking, “This is a rotten game we play, isn’t it?” She assures him that she’s not crazy, and, though they are no longer playing, he persuades her to kiss him. She breaks from the kiss suddenly and sends him away for the night. At home, Rinaldi senses Henry’s romantic confusion and admits to feeling relieved that he himself did not become involved with a British nurse.
Driving back from his post the next afternoon, Henry picks up a soldier with a hernia. The man admits that he threw away his truss (a support for a hernia) on purpose so that he would not have to return to the front. He fears being turned over to his commanding officers, aware that they are familiar with this trick. Henry instructs the man to give himself a bump on the head, which he does, thereby earning his way into the hospital. Henry thinks about the upcoming offensive, which is scheduled to start in two days. He wishes that he were with Catherine, enjoying a hot night and good wine in Milan. At dinner, the men drink and tease the priest. Rinaldi escorts the drunken Henry to the British hospital, feeding him coffee beans to sober him up. At the nurses’ villa, Helen Ferguson tells Henry that Catherine is sick and will not see him. Henry feels surprisingly “lonely and hollow.”
The next day, Henry hears of an attack scheduled for that night. As the cars pass the British hospital on their way to the front, Henry tells the driver of his car to stop. He hurries in and asks to see Catherine. He tells her that he is off for “a show” and that she shouldn’t be worried. She gives him a St. Anthony medal to protect him. Henry returns to the car and the caravan continues toward Pavla, where the fighting will take place.
At Pavla, Henry sees roadside trenches filled with artillery and Austrian observation balloons hanging ominously above the distant hills. A major greets Henry and his drivers and installs them in a dugout. The men talk disparagingly about the various ranks of soldiers and engage Henry in a discussion about ending the war. Henry maintains that they would all be worse off if the Italian army decided to stop fighting, but Passini, one of the ambulance drivers, respectfully disagrees, maintaining that the war will go on forever unless one side decides to stop. The men are hungry, so Henry and Gordini, another driver, fetch some cold macaroni and a slab of cheese from the main wound-dressing station. As they return to the dugout, shelling begins and bombs burst around them. As the men eat the food, there is “a flash, as when a blast-furnace door is swung open.” Henry finds himself unable to breathe and thinks himself about to die. A trench mortar has exploded through the dugout, killing Passini and injuring Gordini. The two remaining drivers, Gavuzzi and Manera, carry Henry to a wound-dressing station, where a British doctor treats Henry’s ruined leg. An ambulance is loaded with the wounded and sent off to the hospital.
Henry’s small personal stake in the war, toward which he displays a supreme indifference, becomes increasingly clear in these chapters. As an American soldier fighting in the Italian army—an army that Catherine and the other British nurses don’t take seriously—Henry feels as detached from the war as he feels from everything else in his life. He claims that the war does “not have anything to do with me,” and he feels no real commitment to it. His behavior with the soldier who admits to tossing away his truss in order to worsen his hernia and thereby evade service is telling; Henry exhibits none of the integrity that the reader might expect of the young man’s commanding officer. Rather than chastise him for his self-serving, irresponsible attitude, Henry helps him plot his way into the hospital, thereby contributing, in a small way, to the overall deterioration of the Italian army.
Henry’s behavior with the ambulance drivers further establishes his detachment from the war. The men feel comfortable voicing their contempt for the soldiers and their belief that Italy should withdraw from the war in front of Henry, though they know better than to “talk so other officers can hear.” Although Henry defends the Italian army and the war effort, he does so from a calm, philosophical standpoint rather than anger at the men’s disrespect. Also noteworthy is that Henry risks his life for something as inglorious as a slab of cheese. The scene in which he braves falling mortar shells in order to dress his pasta upends the popular literary convention of the protagonist facing great adversity to accomplish a noble end. Henry’s objective is ridiculous, pathetic, and decidedly not heroic. That this scene follows on the heels of a conversation in which the men maintain that “war is not won by victory” amplifies the doubt cast upon romantic ideals such as glory and honor.
The ending was good, but depressing.
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I personally thought it was okay.
It only got interesting for me towards the end.
I personally found the first half of the book a bit monotonous, and Hemingways distanced writing almost glacial. The second half of the book, particularly after the beginning of the Italian retreat, was far more involving with interesting reflections on war, life and death.
The last part made me shed a few tears, it was impetuous and expressed Henry´s desperation, and eventually human desperation, perfectly. I´m quite ambivalent about the book, but the last chapters are definitely worth reading!