A Natural History of the Dead (Hemingway)

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A Natural History of the Dead
Summary of the Short Story
Microsummary: A narrator observed the dead during wartime, noting their physical changes, the presence of animals, and the impact of weather on their bodies, while also reflecting on the nature of death itself.

The narrator, a naturalist, observed the dead during a war and noticed that they were usually male, although this did not hold true for animals. He also observed that mules, which he had never seen dead in civilian life, died in war just like other animals.

The Narrator — observer of the dead during wartime; naturalist; curious, reflective.

In war the dead are usually the male of the human species although this does not hold true with animals, and I have frequently seen dead mares among the horses.

The dead changed in appearance each day, with their skin color changing from white to yellow, to yellow-green, to black. They also grew larger each day, sometimes becoming too big for their uniforms.

The narrator recalled an incident after an explosion at a munition factory near Milan, Italy. The dead were mostly women, which was shocking to him. He also noticed that the dead were often surrounded by scattered papers, which he found surprising. The smell of a battlefield in hot weather was something he could not recall, but he remembered the heat, flies, and the positions of the bodies in the grass.

The heat, the flies, the indicative positions of the bodies in the grass, and the amount of paper scattered are the impressions one retains.

In the mountains, the dead were sometimes buried in the snow, and when the snow melted in the spring, they had to be buried again. The narrator mentioned a general who was shot in the head by a sniper and died in a trench dug in the snow. He also mentioned another general who was killed in his staff car by the Italian rearguard.

The narrator then described a scene at a dressing station in the mountains, where a man with a broken head lay alive among the dead. The doctor refused to give him an overdose of morphine, and an argument ensued between the doctor and an artillery officer. The doctor eventually threw iodine in the officer's face, blinding him temporarily. The man in the dead-house was later reported to be dead, ending the dispute.