The main characters in the short story “A Very Short Story” by Ernest Hemingway are the American soldier and the nurse named Luz. Several other characters are mentioned – the patients from the hospital and the major of the Italian battalion – but they only function as episodic characters. The Italian major is important for the way Luz relates to him and views love, but he also has a symbolic meaning related to World War I (which we will focus on in another section of the study guide).
The American soldier is the main character of the short story. His name is not given, a fact which has made critics believe that the protagonist may be Nick Adams, a semi-autobiographical character which is present in about two dozen short stories written by Ernest Hemingway. This idea is reinforced by the fact that Ernest Hemingway based the short story on his relationship with nurse Agnes von Kurowsky whom he met in Milan, while he was in the hospital because of some leg injuries from the war.
The American’s outer characterization only reveals that he is from Chicago and that the beginning of the story finds him fighting as a soldier on the Italian front. Nothing is said about his looks or physique, except for the fact that he has suffered an operation and that he used crutches afterward.
His inner characterization is also very brief. First, he comes across as a man who is very strict with himself and who takes himself seriously even before an operation: “He went under the anaesthetic holding tight on to himself so he would not blab about anything during the silly, talky time.”
Despite his sternness, he comes across as very kind and loving towards Luz, the nurse he has fallen in love with. He even lets her sleep at night and checks out other...