Here now we have beautiful girls. New girls never been to the front before. . . . You don’t believe me? We will go now this afternoon and see. And in the town we have beautiful English girls. I am now in love with Miss Barkley. I will take you to call. I will probably marry Miss Barkley. . . . Loan me 50 lire. . . . I must make on Miss Barkley the impression of a man of sufficient wealth. You are my great and good friend and financial protector.
Rinaldi, an Italian surgeon, greets his roommate, Frederic, on his return from leave. Rinaldi enjoys the company of women of all sorts. The “new girls” he mentions here are prostitutes specially designated for officers in the Italian army, and both Rinaldi and Frederic frequently visit the bawdy house. At the same time, Rinaldi reveals that he is pursuing an English woman named Miss Barkley. Unlike the prostitutes, Miss Barkley appears to Rinaldi to be a suitable candidate for a wife, although Rinaldi’s tone does not seem serious.
Rinaldi was lying on his bed. He looked at me. “You make progress with Miss Barkley? . . . You have that pleasant air of a dog in heat.” I did not understand the word. . . . He explained. . . . I knocked over his candle with the pillow and got into bed in the dark. Rinaldi picked up the candle, lit it and went on reading.
When Rinaldi introduced Frederic to Miss Barkley, sparks flew. Despite claiming to be in love with her himself, Rinaldi accepts without complaint that Miss Barkley prefers Frederic over himself. In fact, playing matchmaker may have been Rinaldi’s intent all along. Nevertheless, he reserves the right to tease Frederic about her. Frederic does not naturally share personal matters, but because Rinaldi treats no subject as off-limits, he gets Frederic to somewhat open up and knows Frederic better than anyone else does.
Rinaldi poured another glass. He was quieter now. He held up the glass. “To your valorous wounds. To the silver medal. Tell me, baby, when you lie here all the time in the hot weather don’t you get excited? . . . I can’t imagine lying like that. I would go crazy. . . . I wish you were back. No one to come in at night from adventures. No one to make fun of. No one to lend me money. No blood brother and roommate. Why did you get yourself wounded?”
While visiting Frederic in the hospital, Rinaldi expresses how he misses Frederic. In addition, Rinaldi seems determined to make certain that Frederic gets a medal for a heroic act performed while getting his wound despite Frederic’s correct assertion that he did nothing special. Rinaldi admits that he feels very moved to see Frederic injured. This statement indicates that more than missing Frederic’s company, having his “blood brother” injured introduces Rinaldi to the reality of war in a way that operating on anonymous soldiers has never done.
“Take off your pants, baby. We’re all friends here. I want to see what kind of a job they did.” I stood up, took off the breeches and pulled off the knee-brace. Rinaldi sat on the floor and bent the knee back and forth. He ran his finger along the scar; put his thumbs together over the kneecap and rocked the knee gently with his fingers. “Is that all the articulation you have? . . . It’s a crime to send you back. They ought to get complete articulation.”
Rinaldi inspects the work surgeons did on Frederic’s knee after Frederic returns from a long hospital stay in Milan. Although Frederic feels better and was declared fit to return to the front, Rinaldi disapproves. In part, he feels concern for his friend, but his objection also reflects a matter of professional pride. While the reader never gets a description of Rinaldi at work, this scene reminds readers that when not drinking and pursuing girls, he is a surgeon.
All summer and all fall I’ve operated. I work all the time. I do everybody’s work. All the hard ones they leave to me. By God, baby, I am becoming a lovely surgeon. . . . I never think. No, by God, I don’t think; I operate. . . . But now, baby, it’s all over. I don’t operate now and I feel like hell. This is a terrible war, baby. You believe me when I say it. Now you cheer me up. Did you bring the phonograph records?
While Frederic received medical treatment, the men at the front underwent a brutal fighting season. As a result, Rinaldi explains that he too experienced a long and difficult summer, but he feels proud of his work. Now that the fighting is seemingly over for the season, Rinaldi has nothing to do and feels restless, perhaps empty without a purpose. Rinaldi hopes Frederic’s return will be the distraction he needs to cheer up. Rinaldi and Frederic both exemplify “real men”: men of action.
“I am jealous maybe,” Rinaldi said. . . . “I don’t mean like that. I mean something else. Have you any married friends? . . . I haven’t. . . . Not if they love each other. . . . They don’t like me. . . . I am the snake. I am the snake of reason.”
When Rinaldi realizes that Frederic and Catherine’s relationship has become serious, he opens up about his fears. As he explains, he feels jealous, but not because he wants Catherine. He worries that he will lose Frederic as he has lost his other married friends. Rinaldi admits that his own cynicism about relationships makes him a bad friend for any man who wishes to stay married. Rinaldi doesn’t want to lose Frederic as a friend, and his honesty reflects his genuine affection.
“Already I am only happy when I am working.” He looked at the floor again. . . . “I only like two other things; one is bad for my work and the other is over in half an hour or fifteen minutes. Sometimes less. . . . Perhaps I have improved, baby. You do not know. But there are only the two things and my work. . . . We never get anything. We are born with all we have and we never learn. We never learn anything new. We all start complete. You should be glad not to be a Latin.”
Rinaldi admits that, aside from work, the only two other things he enjoys are alcohol and sex. Although the author frequently gives his heroes these attributes and hobbies, seemingly holding them up as the mark of a true man, Rinaldi’s words here suggest that neither alcohol nor sex paves the way to happiness. Rinaldi wishes he could add more dimensions to himself but believes that such improvement is impossible. Such an admission implies that true men, by nature, sometimes feel unhappy.
[“]What if I have it. Everybody has it. The whole world’s got it. First,” he went on, assuming the manner of a lecturer, “it’s a little pimple. Then we notice a rash between the shoulders. Then we notice nothing at all. We put our faith in mercury. . . . Good old priest,” he said. “You’ll never get it. Baby will get it. It’s an industrial accident. It’s a simple industrial accident.”
Rinaldi arrives to dinner drunk. After he baits the priest and behaves in a generally rude way, the major excuses him, saying he is “under a strain.” Here, Rinaldi begins to hint at why he feels stressed. His mentions of a pimple, a rash, and mercury indicate that he believes he has syphilis. While claiming the condition is “simple” and common, Rinaldi clearly feels disturbed by the possibility, given that the disease at the time debilitated its victims and was difficult to treat.