In the short story "The Enemy" by Pearl S. Buck, there are two phrases that I'm not quite certain whether I have correctly understood. Here are the short passages which contain the phrases:

"What shall we do with this man?" Sadao muttered. But his trained hands seemed of their own will to be doing what they could to stanch the fearful bleeding.

"The strange thing is," he said, "that if the man were whole I could turn him over to the police without any difficulty. I care nothing for him..."

My understanding of the 1st phrase: He is a trained professional so his hands are moving unconsciously due to a well developed muscle memory.

My understanding of the second phrase: If the man were whole means if the man was not in an injured or unstable position.

  • For questions that are plain English-language comprehension, it may be more appropriate to ask on English Language Learners. (Not that this is inappropriate here)
    – bobble
    Nov 5, 2021 at 16:55
  • 1
    Hi Hrishi I would say welcome to Literature Stack Exchange, but I see you aren't entirely new here. I do see that you don't have your 'Informed' badge though, so you have yet to take the Tour. Please take a few moments to do that as it will help you in asking effective questions. For this one though, it will help your question if you explain what the understanding you have of the phrases is.
    – Spagirl
    Nov 5, 2021 at 17:08
  • @Spagirl Hi Spagirl. Thank you for welcoming me. I get your point. I'm editing my question & doing as accordingly. Now kindly do help me whenever you are free.
    – Hrishi
    Nov 10, 2021 at 15:12

1 Answer 1


Yes, your understanding is correct.

  1. his trained hands seemed of their own will to be doing what they could to stanch the fearful bleeding

    By making his hands the subject of the sentence, here, the text is implying that his hands are acting automatically, independently of his conscious brain. This implication is confirmed by the next phrase "of their own will" - metaphorically assigning a will or volition to the doctor's hands, which clearly don't literally have a mind of their own, in order to convey the idea that they are acting unconsciously according to their training (the use of the adjective "trained" reminds us that his medical expertise and experience is deeply ingrained in him, even in the muscle memory of his hands).

  2. if the man were whole I could turn him over to the police without any difficulty

    Here the adjective "whole" is used in sense 2 here: "Sound, uninjured, healthy." If the wounded "enemy" were in perfect physical condition, Sadao would have no qualms about handing him in to the authorities. But, since he is injured, the doctor's medical training kicks in and he is unable to think of the man as an "enemy" rather than a patient.

By the way, these two quoted passages seem to be key in the understanding of the whole story, so you were right to make sure you understood them correctly. The whole narrative is kickstarted by a doctor finding an injured foreign soldier and treating him as a patient rather than an enemy.

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