In Our Time

In Our Time Summary and Analysis of "On the Quai At Smyrna"

The narrator retells a story that he heard from a senior officer who was at Smyrna. There is a recollection of screaming--"they" would not stop until they sent search lights over "them." Interestingly, those who were screaming are never named. There also was a Turkish officer who approached in a rage after feeling insulted by one of his sailors. The Turkish officer accuses the gunners mate of the offense, though he apparently is very inoffensive (especially since he knows hardly any Turkish). After a conversation with this sailor, the senior officer finally sends him aboard the ship with instructions not to return to shore for the rest of the day. He becomes great friends with the Turkish officer after assuring him that the gunners mate will be severely dealt with on the ship, even though this is a lie. He remembers the dead babies as the worst part of his experience. Women would not give up their dead babies, often holding on to them for six days until finally they had to be taken away. He also describes an old woman who died and immediately went stiff and rigid. He told this to a doctor who claimed that such a thing was impossible.

In the narrator's recollection of the conversation, the senior officer also talks about the harbor and things floating around in it. He says this was the only time in his life he dreamed. He also mentions that he does not mind nearly as much the women having babies as those holding dead ones.

Finally he describes the Greeks as "nice chaps." He described how they murdered their baggage animals when they evacuated: they broke the mules' forelegs and pushed them into the shallow water.


This opening sketch approaches the horrors of war directly for the only time in the book. The narrator remembers a naval officer's response to the death involved. The worst aspect of the scene is the women with dead babies. Death has turned into a feature of the war, something the soldiers must deal with as if it were a chore. The naval officer describes cleaning up dead bodies as if they were trash. At the end animals are cruelly killed as part of the evacuation. Death invades all aspects of war, and it foreshadows the death, suffering, and loss, not only of the war, but also in the everyday processes of social conflict in the novel.