Literature Study GuidesIn Our TimeThe Revolutionist Summary

In Our Time | Study Guide

Ernest Hemingway

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In Our Time | The Revolutionist | Summary



A first-person narrator tells of a "revolutionist" from Hungary. In Hungary, the revolutionist was persecuted by "the Whites," the side against revolution. Comrades at the "headquarters of the party" gave him a piece of oilcloth with a message of safe passage on it, which he uses in place of a ticket, and sympathetic railroad workers let him travel.

The revolutionist loves Italy: The narrator reports the revolutionist as saying, "It was a beautiful country." He visits many Italian towns during his journey and buys reproductions of paintings by several Italian painters he likes. He carries them wrapped in a copy of Avanti! an Italian socialist newspaper. He says he does not like the Italian painter Mantegna.

The narrator follows the revolutionist from Bologna, Italy, into the Italian countryside, the Romagna. The revolutionist "believes in world revolution." He believes the world revolution will start in Italy. The narrator remarks to readers, "I did not say anything."

Back in Bologna, they part. The revolutionist will board the train for Milan and then walk over the border into Switzerland. The narrator talks to the revolutionist about some Mantegna paintings in Milan, but the revolutionist shyly repeats he does not like the artist. The narrator gives him some names of comrades in Switzerland, and the revolutionist looks forward to walking over the mountain pass. The narrator remarks the last he heard, the revolutionist was in jail in Switzerland.


The narrator must also be a communist since he helps the revolutionist, but the narrator is neither enthusiastic nor optimistic about world revolution, or about it starting in Italy. One reason for the narrator's pessimism might be the fascist movement led by Benito Mussolini, who became dictator of Italy in 1922. The story is set in 1919, so the takeover has not happened yet, but already in 1912, Mussolini had been appointed editor of Avanti! Mussolini used his position as editor to call for war. After the war, Mussolini wrote articles calling for a dictator to lead Italy. In a speech in Bologna, where "The Revolutionist" is set, Mussolini suggested he was the man to lead Italy.

The narrator would have to know about this turmoil in the Italian socialist party in 1919. He tells the revolutionist that the movement is going "very badly." When the revolutionist insists Italy is the starting point, the narrator says nothing. The revolutionist is dead set in his views; he doesn't listen to what the narrator says about the movement, so perhaps the narrator loses interest in talking to him.

The narrator subtly tries to educate the revolutionist, encouraging him to see some Mantegna paintings in Milan. Perhaps he is toying with the revolutionist, needling him about a painter he knows he doesn't like. In any case, the revolutionist is certain the world is the way he sees it. The story gets a last laugh on the revolutionist. As in "A Very Short Story," Hemingway uses concrete details to bring airy illusions down with a thud: "The last I heard of him the Swiss had him in jail near Sion."

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