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In Our Time | Study Guide

Ernest Hemingway

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In Our Time | A Very Short Story | Summary

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Summary

An unnamed wounded soldier is carried up to the rooftop of a hospital where he is recovering to see the stars. When he returns to the ward, he continues a love affair with a nurse named Luz. They want to get married, but they don't have birth certificates required to do so. When the soldier recovers, he returns to the front.

Luz's letters to him at the front arrive all at once after the armistice. The two of them agree to marry in the United States. He plans to get a job there first and then send for her, but they quarrel before he departs for home.

After he leaves, Luz takes a new lover, an Italian major. She writes to the American soldier about the major, saying she now realizes theirs was just adolescent love. "A boy and girl love," she writes in her fractured English. She says she will marry the major. The story concludes by telling the fates of Luz and the solider: Luz does not marry the major, and the soldier contracts gonorrhea in America.

Analysis

"A Very Short Story" is far from the shortest vignette in the book. Therefore, the title represents something other than the story's length. For most of "A Very Short Story," the soldier and Luz think their story will be long. They expect to marry and spend the rest of their lives together in the United States. They end up apart; she, jilted, and he, with a sexually transmitted infection. The title already gives readers a hint their love affair will be short.

The world they share is limited: a ward for wounded soldiers in a hospital. They don't really know each other, and their private lovers' jokes are hospital-related ("friend or enema"). His romantic gesture is to take temperatures for her so she can rest in his bed. As soon as they leave that world, their love shows strain. "On the train from Padua to Milan they quarreled about her not being willing to come home at once."

In the final sentence of the story, the specificity of Hemingway's prose brings the airy love fantasies crashing down. The soldier does not simply get some disease from someone, somewhere. He gets "gonorrhea from a sales girl in a loop department store while riding in a taxicab through Lincoln Park." This language contrasts with the abstractness and clichés of Luz's letter: "She loved him always. ... She knew it was for the best."

Luz is naïve about the major. She thinks her love with the American was adolescent and her love for the major is the real thing. If the soldier in the story is Nick Adams, he has been in love before, too. Nick rejected Marjorie, thinking that was inauthentic, but he thinks Luz is the real thing. The events in the story are also similar to Hemingway's life. He was also wounded in World War I, hospitalized in Italy, and fell in love with a nurse.

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