The story is told from the first person. The action of the novel takes place when one man is trying to go asleep, and it is not an easy task for him. The man, Signor Tenente, as his orderly calls him, is laying on blankets that are spread over straw and his conscious is full of colored images from the past having a strange feeling if he suddenly falls asleep in the dark, the soul will fly away and never come back to the body again. He is the main character of the story and we could guess that something bothers him much, some physic wounds is not heal, bringing suffering and worries in the night. The theme of the story is main struggling with sleep by main hero.
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Tenente did not sleep for a long time yet listening to the sounds of silk-worms that are eating leaves of mulberry. They make to remember childhood years, when he used to go fishing for trout and was in search for different worms and insects as bait. There were many various streams, some of them were memorable, and some were not. Up or downstream, far and close, they all had their unique face. One of them was more dynamic and other was more for dreaming and relaxation. There were no two identical streams, Tenente even gave them names.
Sometime the main hero of the novel can not even go fishing. He spent the night time sorting out the attics of his conscious, remembering the event which took place before the war started (it does not said what war was it), praying for people he manage to remember. Although, he even could not always remember the words of the prayers.
As Tenente was a boy, their grandfather`s attic was full on inteesting things such as jars of snakes, preserved in alcohol insects, and different father`s tools for making things of pottery. When their family were moving to another house, mother burned some father`s treasures in the backyard. Pictures of snakes and bugs that are disappearing into flames sweep over him. One day when after moving the father was out hunting and mother decided to burn rest of attic stuff. Tenente remembered the expression on his father`s face when he was picking up blackened pieces that used to be a stone knife, axe or a arrow-head. He was very upset that day. Images of parents are arriving as they were been there alive, so the main hero decides to pray for them both.
Sometime Tenente is trying to remember all animals in the world or all streets in Chicago… His sleeplessness is increasing rapidly. On this stage we find out that the main hero is not alone in the room. There is one more person lying next to him. It is a second character of the story - Tenente`s orderly, and he is awake too, listening for the noises that are made by silk-worms, eating leaves. From this part of the novel we can find out that he spent ten years in Chicago and he is also tormented by sleeplessness. In nineteen fourteen, while he was visiting his family, they had took him in the army and made an order man. It all happened because he knew English. But the man had another opinion; he thinks it all because of children. He has three of them, and all three are daughters, but the father is not upset about it at all. Both men can not sleep for some reason, and we could only guess what reason it was. It could be painful memories from the past, deep personal emotions and worries or just bad feeeling. The author does not give us many clues about it.
Tenente`s order man is married and his wife writes him letters. She lives in Chicago and has made a fortune there, so the man is supposing to have a wealthy future, when the war ends. Tenente is asking his orderly to speak more quietly in order not to wake some other people. “They are sleeping tightly just like pigs and they do not know English by the way”, was the answer.
The order man said, he never saw Tenente sleeping since they have met he is concerned about Tenente`s health. They are sitting in the dark, having conversation, smoking and listening for the silk-worms, two self-absorbed soldiers they are. Tenente is going to be a writer when the war will end. Orderly man is going to came back to his family in Chicago. His wife regularly sends him clippings from the local newspaper with the sport page and editorials. It makes him feel very happy. Marriage is the solutions for all problems, order man thinks. He advised Signor Tenente to find a good wife in order him to stop worrying. Tenente is not sure in anything. He does not know what he wants at all. Some wounds never heals, it seems. The men finally decided to sleep even a little. Order man was fast asleep snoring loudly, and Signor Tenente continued to lay sleepless with his eyes open in the dark, thinking about wives he could get and having memory flashbacks. The memory brings image of John who is an important person for him. His class was replaced so, Tenente supposed, John is now far from military actions. John also wanted Tenente to get marry. However, he is looking forward to the future.