“In Another Country” takes place on the fringes of World War I, during which some of the characters earned medals for bravery. The narrator feels insecure about his own courage, however, as it has largely been untested; his medals were awarded for being wounded and “an American,” and he is not accepted by those who earned theirs for more daring feats. Though he draws a line between those he sees as bold “hunting-hawks” and those, like himself, who are more timid and afraid of death, Hemingway shows that this rigid conception of bravery is both misguided and damaging. Instead, the story presents courage as something exemplified not just by feats of daring, but by the continued decision to hold fast to hope in the face of suffering.
The narrator sees bravery as an innate characteristic that comes naturally to certain people, and this simple, black-and-white approach pushes him to cast all men as either courageous or cowardly. The narrator specifically describes the three other officers who received medals as “like hunting-hawks,” and this use of natural imagery suggests their bravery is instinctive and something that separates them as a higher breed of man. The narrator then asserts he could never be as brave as these “hawks”: “I knew that I would never have done such things, and I was very much afraid to die.” He sees his fear as a defining characteristic, which he places in opposition to the other officers’ natural courage. He knows he is not naturally a hawk and thinks the other officers gradually shun him because they see this weakness. Such a rigid conception of bravery, then, only serves to create insecurity on the one hand and superiority on the other. What’s more, this reductive idea of courage creates an impassable boundary between bravery and cowardice; one can never try or learn to be brave if bravery is something one either is born with or not.
Hemingway presents an opposing viewpoint through the Italian major that receives treatment alongside the narrator, challenging the medal winners’ perspective. The major in fact does “not believe in bravery,” despite his high rank in the military and his successful career as “the greatest fencer in Italy.” Fittingly, the major’s main act of bravery in the story is decidedly quiet. After telling the narrator his young wife has just died, “carrying himself straight and soldierly, with tears on both his cheeks and biting his lips, he walked past the machines and out the door.” He makes a choice to continue with dignity in the face of terrible loss. The major’s courageous response to his devastating news may not be rewarded by a medal of valor, but it is an example of genuine bravery—that is, enduring in the face of great suffering.
Indeed, this has been the major’s general approach to his post-war life. He doubts the machines’ ability to heal his hand, calling the whole endeavor “nonsense,” yet still diligently attends his daily therapy. After his wife’s death, he still decides to continue with the potentially pointless therapy, although he admittedly seems to have even less hope than before. Through this, Hemingway suggests the major’s grit and persistent determination in the face of near-certain failure as an act of courage as laudable as any on the battlefield.
Considering this new, broader idea of bravery prompts a reassessment of the narrator’s viewpoint. For one thing, the “hunting-hawks” are hardly impervious to pain and fear. The narrator notes, “We were all a little detached,” because of their familiarity with death. The other soldiers’ thus still bear emotional scars despite their bravery, and their continued anguish—much like the major’s—again demonstrates that courage is not a one-time occurrence. Instead, their persistent struggle against their suffering, physical and psychological, is a choice, rather than an innate instinctual reaction, and that is what reveals their true courage.
Speaking of his fellow soldiers, the narrator further notes, “there was nothing that held us together except that we met every afternoon at the hospital.” This reveals that, again like the major, the officers continue to attend their physical therapy sessions—effectively choosing hope over giving in to despair or resignation, despite the fact none of them believe in the therapy machines’ ability to heal them. Hemingway shows their long road to recovery as a battle in itself, one that requires relentless bravery, a type that anyone can achieve if they set their mind to it.
Through the officers, Hemingway also shows the value of community in helping the men stay on that path to recovery. They draw courage from one another, finding support through their shared understanding and experience. This fact makes any divisive concept of bravery seem all the more counterproductive. Hemingway thus challenges the black-and-white notion of courage as a natural instinct, a latent virtue waiting to be proven. Instead, he shows bravery is a constant choice made in the face of hardship—a choice that is open to anyone.
Courage Quotes in In Another Country
I was a friend, but I was never really one of them after they had read the citations, because it had been different with them and they had done very different things to get their medals.
The three with the medals were like hunting-hawks; and I was not a hawk, although I might seem a hawk to those who had never hunted; they, the three, knew better and so we drifted apart.
The major came very regularly to the hospital. I do not think he ever missed a day, although I am sure he did not believe in the machines. There was a time when none of us believed in the machines, and one day the major said it was all nonsense.
He looked straight past me and out through the window. Then he began to cry. "I am utterly unable to resign myself,” he said and choked. And then crying, his head up looking at nothing, carrying himself straight and soldierly, with tears on both his cheeks and biting his lips, he walked past the machines and out the door.