The history of literature has seen renowned masters of short stories, and Ernest Hemingway is one of them. “Soldier’s Home” is a classic example of such a story, as it depicts the United States of America in the fallout of the First World War (WWI) through the prism of a small nameless town in Oklahoma. The purpose of this paper is to analyze the short story in terms of its plot, characters, setting, and conflict in relation to its overall message and symbolism.
The plot of “Soldier’s Home” covers a relatively short period within a greater context of WWI. Hemingway begins the story with a short introduction to the main character’s life before enlisting in the army (99). This stage is presented through a series of short, simple sentences that aim at highlighting the normal nature of Krebs’ youth. Moreover, this information is given by the author in the form of photograph descriptions. The same method is used for describing Krebs’ life between 1917 and 1919 when he served in the army. The reader learns that the character participated in battles at “Belleau Wood, Soissons, the Champagne, St. Mihiel and in the Argonne”, but the author avoids any details regarding Krebs’ experience (Hemingway 99). Hemingway probably wanted to emphasize that such particularities were not crucial to his story, whereas the character’s condition upon returning to the United States played a role of paramount importance.
At first, the protagonist does not want to share his army experience, but, as he develops the desire to do so, no one seems interested. Krebs spends most of his time at home, waking up late, reading, and contemplating the young girls who have grown since he saw them for the last time (Hemingway 101). Nevertheless, the main character admits to not being interested in finding a girlfriend, since he does not want to work for it (Hemingway 101). The protagonist’s uncertainty regarding his return to the mundane life serves to reflect the situation in which the United States was by the 1920s. At that time, the world, and the country, in particular, had to reorient their activities back to normal.
Hemingway’s story does not have many characters, and the focus of attention remains on the protagonist and his thoughts. Moreover, the only other character referred to by their name is Krebs’ sister Helen (Hemingway 105). Her purpose is to represent a familiar face from the protagonist’s previous life. At the same time, Helen is not spoiled by the atrocities of war and demonstrates somewhat naïve views of life. Although Krebs’ father is mentioned several times, he does not appear in person, serving as a background for the protagonist’s thoughts, and his name is not given, either. Similarly, the girls who attract the main character’s attention, as he sits on the porch, are parts of the setting and do not have distinct personalities. It seems to be the author’s deliberate choice to emphasize the protagonist’s lack of connection with other people, as he has lost his place in the world.
On the other hand, Krebs’ mother is the voice of reason, as she wants to see her son return to everyday life after the war. The protagonist’s attitude reaches its highest point during a conversation with her, and the mother is hurt by her son, who says that he has lost the ability to love other people, including her (Hemingway 105). This is a turning point for the character, as, following this part, Krebs finally thinks of specific plans regarding a normal post-war life. The mother’s reaction forced Krebs to reconsider his ideas and begin his recovery from the post-war inertia (Hemingway 107). Similar to the 1920s United States, he has to make a meaningful change in the new reality after WWI.
This short story is set in a small town in Oklahoma after WWI. It is mentioned that Krebs is not the only man in town who participated in WWI, but, for some reason, he returned later than the rest of them. It is mentioned that most of the veterans had gloriously returned home before Krebs did, which is why his arrival did not attract much attention (Hemingway 100). The protagonist does not feel welcome at the place, as most people do not show interest in his war stories, having heard enough of the earlier (Hemingway 100). Therefore, Krebs seems stuck in the transition period between the WWI era and normal life, while others have managed to move on.
Krebs’ alienation from the rest of the town is emphasized through his daily routine. He spends most of the time at home and prefers to sit on the porch looking at women instead of interacting with them or, at least, doing the same activity walking in the streets (Hemingway 101). Moreover, similar to the majority of characters, the town has no name in the story, which serves to make it relatable and symbolic of the United States in general. At the end of Hemingway’s short story, Krebs walks out of his house full of new ideas, and this symbolizes the shift in his worldview toward a new beginning.
Hemingway depicts a collision of two eternal notions, which are the past and the present. In addition, it is portrayed through the prism of a life-changing experience, such as the WKrebs’ past life is given a short description with few details to underline its meaningless nature in his new mindset (Hemingway 99). Furthermore, it is shown not through the character’s thoughts but through photographs that are the only reminders of the past for him. Krebs returns as a changed man to the place where he grew up and finds it the same. The protagonist realizes that he can no longer fit in, which causes him to remain confined to his house (Hemingway 100). The latter serves as his shell, which may be related to the name of the main character, as it sounds similar to the word “crab”. The conflict of change is one of the main themes of the story, and, by its end, Krebs realizes that he needs to break out of the routine if he wants to continue living after the war. WWI is over, and the world has stepped on the path to recovery. Accordingly, accepting this idea is the only way of moving on the scale of both individual personalities and entire nations.
In conclusion, “Soldier’s Home” by Ernest Hemingway reflects the position in which the United States was in the first years after the WWI. main character was trying to fit in the new reality where the war was a matter of the past, the country and the rest of the world had to find a new direction. Hemingway managed to send this message through an elaborate choice of linguistic structure and style. The conflict of the past and the present is depicted on the scale of a small town, pushing the protagonist toward new choices for the sake of the future.
Hemingway, Ernest. “Soldier’s home.” The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway, Scribner, 2017, pp. 99-107.