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A Farewell to Arms
Ernest Hemingway

THE STORY BOOK III CHAPTER 28

The retreating column, which has been making orderly progress, stops, starts again briefly, and then stalls. Henry goes off to check on the traffic jam and comes back to find his group increased by two sergeants of engineers and two terrified girls the drivers have picked up.

The vehicle column seems permanently stalled although troops continue to march by the ambulances. As fatigue overcomes Henry, Hemingway launches into another stream of consciousness (or unconsciousness) passage. Note the free associations: the cause of the holdup, rain, peasant carts, the girls, Catherine in bed, a couple of lines from a poem, and then a dream where he sees himself back with Catherine, comforting and reassuring her.

The column starts again; the rain slackens. The road is jammed with fleeing peasants. Henry decides to take a side road to make better time and to avoid possible air attacks if the rain should stop.

They turn off the main road and stop at a farmhouse to eat. After eating some wine and cheese, they get rolling, leaving the "fine farmhouse" with its "good ironwork" behind- in effect, leaving the security and peace those simple words seem to imply. CHAPTER 29

By noontime they have gotten within 10 kilometers of Udine, their destination. Then one of the cars gets stuck in mud.


The sergeants try to run off. Henry orders them to cut some brush to put under the mired wheels, but they refuse. He repeats the order four times, and, when they still pay no attention, he draws his pistol and fires. He misses at first, then drops one of the fleeing men. Bonello, one of his drivers, finishes off the sergeant, shooting him twice in the head.

This is a curious incident that comes close to defying explanation. Why does Henry shoot the fleeing sergeant? One possible reason is that although he dislikes fervent militarism, he usually follows regulations. In town he carried his side arm as ordered, though his friend Rinaldi stuffed his holster with paper. He made light of his decorations, but he wears the ribbons all the same. And while at night he suffers nightmares, in the daytime, before an audience, his bravely casual attitude toward his wounding is exemplary. That may be the key to this scene: because he has an audience, Henry must act like an officer. In front of his men, he has given an order and the order has been ignored. What is he to do? He asserts his authority, a very human reaction.

Still, the shooting may diminish him as a hero in your eyes. At this point in the novel Henry can't help but participate in the war and its cruel ironies. In the business of saving lives, he shoots a man. In the process of developing a growing distrust for authority, he becomes authoritarian. And though he is fighting the Austrians, the first and only man he kills in the war is Italian.

The scene also shows the political stresses within the Italian army. How happy is Bonello, a socialist, to shoot a figure of authority like a sergeant. All his life he's wanted to kill one.  

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© Copyright 1984 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
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