For my final project in my MLS Hemingway class, we were given the option to revisit a previous story and either extend on a previous close reading or examine another element of the story. I was deeply touched by Hemingway’s war story, “In Another Country,” so I decided to explore another passage in the story and expand on my thesis through a closer reading of the text.
It’s a bit heavy (academic writing is far from engaging), but I thought I’d share it here since I did well on it. Enjoy!
Gender-Role Identities, Masculinity, and Self-Purpose within Hemingway’s “In Another Country.”
“I had been wounded, it was true; but we all knew that being wounded, after all, was really an accident. I was never ashamed of the ribbons, though, and sometimes, after the cocktail hour, I would imagine myself having done all the things they had done to get their medals; but walking home at night through the empty streets with the cold wind and all the shops closed, trying to keep near the street lights, I knew that I would never have done such things, and I was very much afraid to die, and often lay in bed at night by myself, afraid to die and wondering how I would be when I went back to the front again.”
– Hemingway, “In Another Country”
Contrary to Hemingway’s predisposition toward apathetic exposition and succinct, observation-driven storytelling, “In Another Country” is weighted with loaded language, detailed retrospection, and comprehensive internalized focalization. Through these techniques, Hemingway reveals the dispassionate melancholy of the protagonist, presumed to be Nick Adams [though never directly named], as he and his fellow soldiers recover from their injuries during World War I. The story, which exercises many of Hemingway’s well-known habits of redundancy and tenebrous dialogue, strays from the author’s normal aversion to self-reflective perspectives, which is used purposefully in this piece to illustrate to the reader the permanent cost of war: so permanent that the story is told as reminiscent after an indeterminate amount of time has passed. “In Another Country,” often considered an autobiographical piece reflecting Hemingway’s own service and consequential injury in Italy, details the retrospection of the protagonist regarding his service in the war and the role he played as a non-vested American citizen alongside the Italian men. In this close reading, I will analyze how Hemingway used internalized focalization, word choice, tone, and selective omission throughout the passage to convey the societal repercussions of military service on the psychological well being of the young men permanently damaged, mentally or physically, by war. More specifically, I will address the gender-identity confusion and emasculation Hemingway believed occurred as a result of the service for many men, as their injuries prohibited them from “serving their purpose” in the war and how that is portrayed through his protagonist.
In viewing the passage as a whole, the reader first notices the use of first person narrative, a term Robert Lamb would abhor, but an accurate initial observation nonetheless. Hemingway’s use of a Conradian split narrator within “In Another Country,” a variant of the classic first person peripheral narrator, allows him to both detail a subject (one character, such as Signor Maggiore) and the narrator (another character, potentially Nick Adams), and draw the audience’s interest equally to both (Lamb 104). Within this particular paragraph, Hemingway goes deeply into internalized focalization, sharing retrospection on the protagonist’s service and his altered perception of the honors he received following his injuries. From the perspective of the narrator, the reader learns that the character considers himself a fraud, somehow less deserving of his medals due to the nature of his injuries. He admits that he “would never have done such things,” referring to the acts of valor his comrades committed to earn their accolades, and acknowledges that he was “very much afraid to die,” revealing shame and self-contempt with the passing of time (Hemingway 208).
The narrator’s disparaging reflection of his fear of death draws attention to Hemingway’s definition of gender identity and his expectations of masculinity exercised throughout the narrative. Alex Vernon, in an analysis of gender identity and war in regards to Hemingway’s works, states that “war contributed to the construction of one’s identity, and doubles does so in a gendered way, and thus in a way that must affect one’s sense of gender dynamics” (Vernon 37). For Hemingway’s protagonist of “In Another Country,” we must assume that his sense of self and gender evolved as a result of the war, and that he now questions his masculinity in comparison to his peers.
In closer inspection of the passage, Hemingway’s word choice and descriptive language reveals more depth to the story. “I was never ashamed of the ribbons, though,” conveys that the protagonist felt that he should feel shame, or that he perceived that others’ believed he should feel shame for not earning his medals through valor or courage (Hemingway 208). Hemingway never wastes words on things that are clearly understood, so the narrator’s declaration that he felt no shame is indicative that he either did (and he’s lying) or he should (but he doesn’t). He goes on to say, “I would imagine myself having done all the things they had done to get their medals,” which reveals the protagonist’s youth; he “imagines” himself as the hero, which conveys a remnant of innocence, of optimism, and of naiveté (208). The most revealing language, though, comes in the continuation:
“…but walking home at night through the empty streets with the cold wind and all the shops closed, trying to keep near the street lights, I knew I would never have done such things, and I was very much afraid to die, and often lay in bed at night by myself, afraid to die and wondering how I would be when I went back to the front again” (Hemingway 208).
With the phrases “cold wind” and “shops closed,” Hemingway symbolizes a deep loneliness and isolation for the protagonist, as he is the outsider in this war – despite his participation and injury. His effort to “keep near the streetlights” conveys a need for warmth, a fear of the unknown or unexplored, and a childlike fear of the dark. The closing line, especially with the repetition of “afraid to die,” draws a parallel to the former Nick Adams’ stories, specifically “Indian Camp” (Hemingway 208). The closing line of “Indian Camp” paints a very different version of the protagonist, assuming this is the same character, as the youthful Nick Adams “felt quite sure that he would never die” (Hemingway 70). Nick Adams has transformed and evolved over the a series of stories, but never so much as he does within “In Another Country;” in this narrative, he’s brought faced to face with his own mortality, his cowardice, and his lack of purpose/value to society now that he’s injured.
This passage, in juxtaposition to the story as a whole, brings focus on the individual loss: the loss of pride, the loss of bravery, and the loss of purpose. All of the men in the narrative have faced a thematic loss in some fashion, whether through physical loss of appendages, or mobility, or the loss of their innocence. As much as Maggiore feared being in a “position to lose,” Hemingway illustrates the true conflict in the story: when a man’s “purpose” – the core of his gender identity and masculinity – is lost, challenged, or intangible, does he lose himself? Is the protagonist’s fear not of death, but rather that he has nothing left to give, nothing left of value to himself, and that he willingly put himself in this position – the greatest irony – in his service to the war? War has the power to create heroes, but it can also emasculate, shatter gender identity, and cause men to reconceptualize their role. Hemingway’s protagonist envisioned glory, but instead was left with physical injury and a post-war emotional hangover, which he imprinted on the protagonist of “In Another Country.”
Unlike much of Hemingway’s work, “In Another Country” is heavily weighted with tonal cues. Prior to the passage, Hemingway sets the scene for the story by describing “a world which is strange and depressing to the unnamed first person narrator, who retrospectively describes his loneliness, isolation, and fear” (Halter 523). Hemingway continues this uncharacteristic technique, which language and word choice that paints a very depressed, self-deprecating narrator looking back on his life. The phrase “but we all knew that being wounded, after all, was really an accident,” demonstrates a tone of self-contempt, of sarcasm, and of sadness (Hemingway 208). The narrator regrets how he felt/acted during the war, but has now – an indeterminate time later – resigned to the fact that his cowardice was real. Hemingway continues, repeating the word “afraid” and illustrating the isolation the character feels with the phrase “the empty streets with the cold wind,” and “often lay in bed at night by myself.” While the reader recognizes that the narrator is no longer emotionally in the same state, the younger version of himself was suffering, and was enduring that pain alone.
Omission, though not immediately transparent in an initial reading of the piece, plays a huge role in the depth of the narrative. While we understand “In Another Country” is a war story, and we even understand the context of the thematic elements – each man has lost something because of their service – Hemingway fails to clarify a true setting or time for the narrator. We understand the location and time of the events he describes, but not the current situation he is in to give us this perspective. How many years have passed since his injury? What has he gone on to do? What are the lasting repercussions of this experience, other than the fact that it’s given light to retrospection in the future? Another observed omission in the story is the absence of daylight, highlighted especially in this passage. The narrator walks home “at night through empty streets” and he lies “in bed at night,” but there is little mention of how the days are spent (Hemingway 208). Peter Halter points out in his critical essay of the work, “the soldiers move through dusk and darkness on their frequent excursions from the hospital to the town, seeking the artificial light… a light which promises noise, girls and entertainment, or, in other words, oblivion from the awareness of their situation” (527). Hemingway intentionally omits the daytime hours from the story to illustrate the fact that the war – which presumably sees the most activity during the daylight hours – encompasses the day and, since they are no longer participants due to their injuries, they are no longer welcomed in that world. If war is all encompassing, then war is life: so they have lost the right to live.
Hemingway, often thought of as a “man’s man” by readers and critics alike, had vulnerabilities and gender identity issues beyond the surface bravado he shared with the world. In many ways, “In Another Country” confronts those feelings, and explores his understanding of gender-roles and the value he placed on masculinity through the lens of the protagonist. John Hemingway, Ernest Hemingway’s grandson, notes that while Hemingway’s apparent recurring themes are “death, war, tragic loss, and love,” the author’s artistic origins were routed more deeply in “sexual ambiguity, gender bending, and male/female unity” (J Hemingway 426). Throughout the narrative, the reader is constantly aware of the narrator’s loss of purpose and wavering sense of self, which is echoed in the story by the Italian major, who fears putting oneself back into a “position to lose” in the future (Hemingway 209). Through internalized focalization, Hemingway paints a picture of isolation and gender-role confusion, through word choice he illustrates the youth and desolation of the main character, and through tonal imagery, he conveys a sense of darkness, of hopelessness, and of resignation to a sad truth. By omitting key information, such as the role the soldiers play during the daylight hours, the reader further understands the isolation and emasculation of he wounded men as they struggle to survive – to endure – until their lives can regain meaning. Whether intentional or subconscious, “In Another Country” clearly has poignant autobiographical innuendo, which reveals a depth and complexity to Ernest Hemingway many fail to recognize in a superficial reading of his works. This story, among others in the series, reveals the long-term ramifications of war and the societal impact defined masculine roles/values can have on the psyche when the environment or conditions are changed violently and without warning.
Halter, Peter. “Indeterminacy in Hemingway’s ‘In Another Country’.” English Studies 71.6 (1990): 523-534. Academic Search Premier. Web. 3 Aug. 2014.
Hemingway, Ernest. “In Another Country.” The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. Finca Vigía ed. New York: Scribner, 2003.
Hemingway, Ernest. “Indian Camp.” The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. Finca Vigía ed. New York: Scribner, 2003.
Hemingway, John. “Ernest Hemingway, the False Macho.” Men and Masculinities Vol 15, No. 4 (2012): 424-31. Web. 4 Aug. 2014.
Lamb, Robert Paul. “Hemingway’s Art of Focalization.” Art Matters: Hemingway, Craft, and the Creation of the Modern Short Story. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2010. Print.
Vernon, Alex. “War, Gender, and Ernest Hemingway.” The Hemingway Review Vol. 22, No. 1 (2002): 34-55. Print.
Works Read, But Not Cited
Bodistean, Florica. “Heroic and Erotic in Hemingway’s War Novel.” Studia Universitatis Petru Maior. Philologia. (2012): 284-292. Academic Search Premier. Web. 4 Aug. 2014.
Thanks for reading,
~ Victoria Elizabeth