Francis begins his narration by announcing that, since the war has finally ended, he has returned to Frenchtown, a neighborhood in his hometown of Monument. However, he no longer has a face. Francis explains that he still has use of his senses, but he was horribly disfigured in the war. He needed skin grafts and dentures to repair most of the damage, though he is still missing his nose.
After explaining his wounds, Francis begins to detail the ways in which he hides them. Namely, he never goes out in public without a Red Sox hat to shade his eyes and a white silk scarf to cover his cheeks and the “caves” where his nose used to be. He completes his costume with his army fatigue jacket and his duffel bag, ensuring that people will recognize him as a wounded veteran.
Francis’s disguise (on top of his disfigurement) further emphasizes the idea that with Francis, things are not always what they appear. His duffel bag, which marks him as a veteran, represents the psychological baggage he carries from the war.
Using some of the back pay he received during his time in the war hospital, Francis anonymously rents a room in Mrs. Belander’s tenement house. Even though he used to run errands for her as a young boy, Mrs. Belander fails to recognize Francis, just as he had hoped.
When Francis is pleased by his ability to remain anonymous, it hints at a disconnect between his childhood and his present, confirming the fact that he does not see his return as a triumphant homecoming.
Anonymous still, Francis returns to St. Jude Church where he was once an altar boy and offers up prayers for the people in his life: his friend from the war hospital Enrico Rucelli, his deceased parents, his deceased brother Raymond, Nicole Renard, and finally he fights back his feelings of guilt and prays for Larry LaSalle, the man he intends to murder.
Back in his rented room, Francis tends to his wounds while reminiscing about his time in the war hospital. First he thinks of his doctor, Dr. Abrams, who promised to help reconstruct Francis’s face at his private plastic surgery practice after the war. Francis also remembers how his friend Enrico suggested, half jokingly, that if Francis truly wanted to get over his feelings for Nicole, he could find a new sweetheart at a home for the blind, using his status as a Silver Star hero to woo women who would not be bothered by his disfigurement.
While Enrico may have been simply joking with Francis about needing to find a blind girl to love him, the idea of blindness (and the implication of hiding Francis’ disfigurement) further builds tension between Francis’ outward appearance and his internal characteristics. It also establishes him as somewhat of an outcast in his community now that he has returned from war.
Francis ignored Enrico’s joke while claiming that he wasn’t a hero and admitting that he would never get over Nicole. Now finished reminiscing, he wonders if he will ever see her again, even though he has returned to their childhood hometown.
This initial rejection of the term “hero” hints that the novel does not embrace the concept of heroism. Additionally, Francis’s inability to move on from his childhood sweetheart is a signal that he is still stuck in a simpler, childish mindset even after the trauma of the war.