Book Three: Chapter XXV:
Henry rides from Udine over muddy roads and by bare fall trees to a dreary homecoming in Gorizia. His major asks to see the two ribbons Henry won. The major reports that the summer has been bad to them; Rinaldi is in the hospital now. He directs Henry to take a car to Caporetto tomorrow and send back another driver, Gino.
Henry goes to his room and thinks about Catherine, despite wanting to think about her only before sleep. Rinaldi greets him and inspects his knee. Rinaldi says he is depressed; when he operated all summer he never had the chance to think, but now he does not operate and he feels horrible. Rinaldi wants to get drunk, but Henry tells him he has had jaundice and cannot get drunk. They drink some cognac, anyway. Henry says he is in love with Catherine. Rinaldi asks sexual questions about her, but Henry refuses to discuss it. Rinaldi, who has no such sacred subjects, admits he may be jealous, and says he has no married friends because he is the "'snake of reason.'" The only things he likes, he says, are sex and drinking.
They go down to dinner. Rinaldo pushes more alcohol on Henry. The major joins them, and the priest comes in later. Rinaldi tries to tease the priest, but the priest does not rise to the bait, and neither Henry nor the major provides any encouragement. After Rinaldi makes some more harsh comments, the priest suggests he needs a leave, which only enrages Rinaldi more. Rinaldi leaves after dinner, and the major says Rinaldi thinks he has syphilis. The major leaves Henry and the priest alone.
Death and destruction are again heralded at the start of the chapter with the rain and the images of bare-leafed sterility.
Rinaldi discusses his need to be distracted by work. When he is not working, he is forced to think, and it is inevitably depressing to do so during the war. Just as Rinaldi escapes into work, drinking, and sex, Henry escapes into love. When he arrives home he immediately thinks about Catherine, though he has promised himself he would think about her only before going to sleep. The temptation to think about something pleasurable is too great in such a horrible world.
Rinaldi admits he is jealous of Henry's love, but he qualifies it: "'I don't mean like that. I mean something else.'" He goes on to discuss how the married couple always starts to dislike him, but a possible subtext is that Rinaldi wants the man for himself. Hemingway builds up Rinaldi's homosocial attraction to Henry even more in this chapter, as Rinaldi asks for kisses and feels Henry's knee with his "fine surgeon's hands." Hemingway suggests that the code of the hero does not preclude these homosocial interactions - in fact, it may depend upon such fraternal intimacy.
Book Three: Chapter XXVI:
It is misty outside. Henry takes the priest to his room. The priest feels the war will be over soon, as it has taken a horrible toll on everyone and made them "'gentler.'" Henry thinks that in defeat we become more "'like Our Lord.'" He also thinks that the soldiers were beaten even before the fighting - especially the peasants taken from their farms to go to war. Henry feels depressed, and says this is why he tries not to think about the war, although when he talks he brings out what he has been unconsciously thinking. The priest says he will see Henry when he comes back from his mission, then leaves.
Though Henry is not necessarily religious, he is certainly spiritual. He believes that though the war is horrible, it at least makes everyone humbler and more Christian. He also has sympathy for the peasants, another Christian attitude.
However, Henry is too removed so far to be highly spiritual. He admits that he does not like thinking about the war, though his mind has evidently been whirring in the background without his consent.
Henry's description of his thought process - "'...when I begin to talk I say the things I have found out in my mind without thinking'" - is a good example of how Hemingway generally fashions dialogue. He brings to the fore the nearly unconscious statements of his characters. These are not polished, well-developed statements of purpose, but raw, unadorned feelings.
Book Three: Chapter XXVII:
Henry wakes in the morning and goes to the Bainsizza, a series of small mountains formerly occupied by the Austrians, beyond where he was wounded. The nearby village is badly damaged, but there is much artillery around and it is well organized. He finds Gino, and Gino relates war news and warns Henry about roadside artillery. They discuss war tactics and the state of food during the war. Henry thinks about certain abstract words used frequently in the military and believes they have no place in the war; only the concrete names of places have any dignity.
It storms until late afternoon. The Austrians fire some guns from the woods, but it is not too dangerous. Late at night, there is a bombardment. The wounded are brought in as the rain turns to snow. Two nights later, the Italian line in the north breaks and they are forced to retreat from the advancing Germans and Austrians. They march through the wet weather and evacuate the wounded along the way. They reach Gorizia in two days. Henry sees girls from the soldiers' whorehouse being loaded into a truck. Bonello, a fellow driver, wants to go with them. Henry finds the villa and hospital empty. He finds a note telling him to take some cars to Pordenone. He and the others rest and eat before they continue the retreat.
The novel turns its attention from the game of love in Books One and Two to the even higher-stakes game of war in Book Three. Henry remarks that the military-preferred words "sacred," "glorious," "sacrifice," and "in vain" are empty, and this chapter strips the reader of whatever romantic illusions he might have had about war. The retreat is presented as a gloomy, wet affair - in fact, the motif Hemingway draws of wetness magnifies throughout the chapter as the rain eventually turns into an even more sterile blanket of snow. Henry narrates the proceedings in much the way he narrated the march of the soldiers in Chapter I - with a detached style that focuses on concrete details.
Book Three: Chapter XXVIII:
Henry and the drivers join the retreating army in the rainy night. The column of trucks and horses stops for several hours before continuing. The column stalls later in the night. Bonello has picked up two sergeants of engineering, while Aymo, another driver, has two Italian girls with him. A third driver, Piani, also comes.
Henry thinks longingly and dreams about Catherine while in the rain. The column restarts again, but it moves very slowly. Peasants have joined them overnight. Henry thinks they need to find a side road in case the Austrians attack. He sees one and tells his fellow drivers to turn off. They do so and stop at a deserted farmhouse, where they make themselves a quick breakfast. Henry leaves first with another driver.
While thinking about Catherine in the rain, Henry consciously alludes to the anonymous English poem "Western Wind":
Western wind, when wilt thou blow?
The small rain down can rain.
Christ, if my love were in my arms,
And I in my bed again!
The lyric is famous as an earnestly romantic plea to be reunited with one's lover. The irony in Henry's allusion is that the rain, which heightens the passion in the poem, only serves as a destructive reminder of gloom and death during the army's retreat.
The other notable effect of the allusion is that while Henry has proved himself to be an intellectual man, here he delves into a highly literary mode while providing greater access to his thoughts than ever before. In fact, this passage is the closest so far to "stream-of-consciousness" writing, a narrative style pioneered by James Joyce and William Faulkner in which the writer approximates the rapid, oft-chaotic thought patterns of the character.
Book Three: Chapter XXIX:
After they take many side roads to avoid overhead planes, Aymo's car gets stuck in the mud at noon about ten kilometers from Udine. The two sergeants they have been giving a ride walk off despite Henry's orders for them to help. Henry fires his pistol at them and hits one; the other escapes. Bonello asks for Henry's pistol, then goes over to the fallen sergeant and shoots him twice.
The drivers try several tactics to get the car out of the mud, but are unsuccessful. They pile into the other car with the girls but soon get stuck in a muddy field. They go on foot to a road, and Henry gives the girls some money and directs them toward a main road, where he says they will meet other Italians. The drivers see other cars stuck in the field. Bonello is happy he killed the sergeant, the first time he has killed anyone. They walk quickly and silently up the road.
The men barely discuss the murder of the sergeant, and when they do, it is with humor. However, they quickly change the subject and then do not speak at all. Though Hemingway has written the action of the murder so quickly that it seems almost like an insignificant event, the episode deeply affects the men despite their attempts to hide it.
But it remains unclear how Henry feels about the murder, because the episode is written so succinctly and matter-of-factly. Hemingway writes this part, as he generally writes, under the influences of journalism and the literary movement of Naturalism. Both emphasize objectivity over subjectivity and refrain, especially Naturalism, from passing any moral judgment on actions. Therefore, neither Hemingway nor Henry expresses any type of emotional or moral response to the murder; it simply happens.
Nevertheless, such a detached viewpoint does make a moral statement: there is little room for morality in war. Does the sergeant deserve murder for abandoning the drivers? Does he deserve it any more than the other sergeant who managed to escape? These questions are moot in war. Seemingly contradictory behavior, such as the normally calm Henry's act of violence, and even overly violent behavior, such as Bonello's bloodthirsty execution, can be excused in a chaotic, sometimes meaningless world.
Book Three: Chapter XXX:
Henry and the drivers reach a river where abandoned trucks and carts sit by a blown-up bridge. Henry leads them to a nearby railway bridge. They cross it and Henry sees a German staff car, then German bicycle troops, cross another nearby bridge before disappearing up the road. Henry is angry that the main bridge they crossed was not blown up, while the smaller bridge before was destroyed. Still, his job is to get three ambulances to Pordenone, and now it is doubtful he can even get to Udine.
Henry leads them along the railroad track. They duck when another group of German bicyclists passes by on the road. The drivers establish that they were spotted, but that the Germans are after something else. They walk on and hear firing ahead. As Henry leads them down a side road by a plain, a shot is fired at them. The drivers scramble up a muddy embankment, but Aymo is shot and killed. The drivers believe the Italians, and not the Germans, shot at them - the men's attempt to cross the field scared the Italian rear guard.
The men decide to hide out near Udine and go through when it gets dark. They cross the field in the rain and enter an empty farmhouse. Henry lies down in the hay in the barn. Piani joins him and tells him that, afraid he would be killed, Bonello left to become a prisoner. They drink wine and look out windows to make they are safe, and later leave.
They walk on through the rainy night, a few times coming close to Germans. They later join some vehicles and troops. Henry and Piani think Bonello was a fool for becoming a prisoner, but Henry decides not to file a report that will cause trouble for Bonello's family. The soldiers, some of whom drop their rifles, believe the war is over, but Piani disagrees. Henry wonders why the Germans do not confront them.
Before daylight they reach a bridge over a flooded river. Henry is forcibly taken by several Italian battle police and interrogated for his "'treachery'" that led to the Italian defeat. They interrogate a lieutenant-colonel as well before taking him aside and shooting him. The officers interrogate more men, believing they are Germans in Italian uniforms, and shoot them. When he has an opening, Henry runs into the river, stays underwater, and lets the current carry him downstream. He is shot at, but he floats away too quickly to be caught.
Henry's anger over the main bridge's not being blown up is the first time he reveals true anger; prior to this, he has been dispassionate except when with Catherine, and hardly seemed fazed when he shot at the sergeant. The bridge episode only foreshadows the Italian military incompetence and chaos depicted later.
The chaos infects everyone. Bonello deserts the men even though they stand little chance of being captured by the Germans. His fearful act comes after the fearful act of the Italian rear guard that shot Aymo. As Piani says, however, Bonello (and the rest of them) simply does not believe in the war, and he does not want to take the slightest chance of being killed.
Ironically, Bonello might have been killed had he stayed with Henry, since the Italian army turns on its own men. The chaos and brutality here is as horrific as anything in the war, perhaps more so for its total injustice. Some manage to keep their pride, as the lieutenant-colonel does when he wearily asks to be shot since "'The questioning is stupid.'" Henry's escape is not cowardly nor particularly courageous; he is simply detached from the war and does not feel the need to take a humanitarian stand against such tyrants.
Book Three: Chapter XXXI:
Henry holds on to a piece of timber and floats down the cold river. With great difficulty from the strong current and a swirling eddy, he reaches the bank. He rests for a while, dries off, and cuts off the cloth stars on his sleeve that signify he is a lieutenant and pockets them. He walks down a road, and a machine-gun detachment passes and ignores him.
Henry crosses the Venetian plain and reaches a railroad line between Venice and Trieste. Wary of the nearby guard, he jumps into an open car of a slow-moving train. He hides under the canvas rain-guard and bumps and cuts his head on one of the many guns that are stored there. He wipes off the blood so as not to appear conspicuous, since he will have to get out before Mestre, when they take care of the guns.
Henry undergoes a baptism of sorts in the river. He has removed himself from the army, an act further symbolized by his cutting off his uniform's stars. While rain and water have previously been symbols of destruction and death, here for once the river is a symbol of rebirth. In fact, his furious fight to get out of the river is reminiscent of birth: "...when I looked up the bank was coming toward me, and I kept thrashing and swimming in a heavy-footed panic until I reached it."
Henry makes another connection to nature, as well. He holds on to the piece of timber to stay afloat, and thereafter refers to his and the timber's progress down the river with the first-person plural pronoun of "we," as in "We went down the river in a long curve." He and the timber are one, and Henry grammatically yokes himself to life-saving nature, not the life-killing men from whom he has escaped.
Book Three: Chapter XXXII:
Henry lies on the floor of the train car, cold, wet, and hungry. He tries not to think about Catherine, as it will make him crazy if he does. He thinks that he has no obligation for the cars and men he has lost. He also feels he is no longer angry; he is not involved with the army anymore, and he wishes them luck in their fight. He thinks the army might report him as having drowned. He thinks he will never see Rinaldi again, and then thinks about where he and Catherine will go when they reunite.
Hemingway ups the ante of the pronounal shift he uses in Chapter XXXI with Henry describing himself and the piece of timber as "we." Here, Henry thinks to himself with the second-person pronoun of "you," the longest usage of the technique in the novel. The narrative also loses it journalistic precision and slips into ungrammatical, awkward sentences: "...but you loved some one else whom now you knew was not even to be pretended there; you seeing now very clear and coldly..."
This is Hemingway's foray into Joycean and Faulknerian stream-of-consciousness writing (Chapter XXVIII also featured the technique in some respects), and it not only pulls the reader into Henry's mind, but has another effect: it signifies how much Henry has removed himself from his former way of life. He must temporarily detach himself from his person to see how he has detached himself from the army, and he does this by stepping outside of himself and addressing himself as "you."