Earnest Hemingway has been revered as one of the most renowned authors in American history. He is one of several Americans who is part of the lost generation of writers who received international acclaim for their. Hemingway is known for being ambiguous in some of his writing. However, in his short story “Soldier’s Home,” the author is more straightforward in his approach of clarifying characterization and the theme that the text revolves around. There are some universal motifs associated with the topic, a soldier’s return from war, which help to inform the central conflict within this narrative. The author uses the war as the “backdrop” against which the soldier’s “experiencesâ€¦shall be measured” (Petrarca, 1969, p. 664). A thorough examination of this text indicates that the primary conflict is that Harold Krebs has lost touch with his core self and identity, yet his family still expects him to live up to standards based upon his and their previous conception of him.
Prior to demonstrating the way in which this conflict is resolved and how it informs the reader’s understanding of this tale, it is necessary to demonstrate the veracity of this thesis by proving that Krebs did indeed lose his identity. As alluded to in the preceding paragraph, identity loss is a fairly common occurrence for soldiers exposed to prolonged combat situations found in war. Krebs encountered a fair amount of corruption during his experience in World War I that included, among whatever brutality he participated in, improper relations with young women. After returning home, he quickly becomes jaded by his experience in the war, which the following quotation proves.
A distaste for everything that had happened to him in the war set in because of the lies he had told. All of the times that had been able to make him feel cool and clear inside himself when he thought of them, the times so long back when he had done the one thing, the only thing for a man to do, easily and naturally, when he might have done something else, now lost their cool, valuable quality and then were lost themselves (Hemingway).
This quotation is important because it not only alludes to Krebs’ loss of his identity, but it also suggests that the cause is due to his own corruption illustrated in the form of lying and fornication. His alienation from his participation in World War I stems from the “lies” he told civilians about it. More significantly, his memories of events that helped to form his identity and which were once “valuable” to him become “lost” due to his disillusionment with the war — which results in his disillusionment with himself. It is because Krebs’ life has lost the meaning it once had that he comes into conflict with his family, who still want to hold him to standards of his previous self before he went to war.
Krebs’ conflict is largely an internal one that becomes external once his parents desire him to fulfill the sort of obligations that he shared with them before his life lost meaning after the war. Upon his return home Krebs is decidedly listless, making little use of his time. This presents a problem for his parents, who do not understand the fundamental change that has occurred in him. Their expectations for his life after the war are considerably at variance with his own, which the following quotation, in which his mother discusses her concern for him, elucidates. “Your father is worried, too,” his mother went on, “He thinks you have lost your ambition, that you haven’t got a definite aim in life. Charley Simmons, who is just your age, has a good job and is going to be married” (Hemingway). This quotation presents the crux of the conflict within this story. Krebs’ parents want him to obtain solid employment and to select a wife, raise a family, and adhere to all of the traditional values that they raised him to embrace. The problem is that Krebs no longer wants to do these things. His listless activities demonstrate that he has no intentions of obtaining a stable job, and he does not want to marry for a variety of reasons, some of which are related to fornication during the war. Yet Krebs primarily does not want to do these things because he has lost his true identity — which negates the motivation for and the meaning of such actions for him.
This conflict between the morals of Krebs’ family and his own lack of values, which came from his involvement in the war and consideration of his actions in it once he returned home, is ultimately resolved by the young man’s decision to move out. Doing so enhances the reader’s understanding of the story because this solution suggests Krebs would rather run and take the easy way out rather than address the problem that exists within him. By moving to another state — the text says he would “go to Kansas City” (Hemingway), Krebs could pursue work and escape his family’s values. Running away would resolve the conflict between his parents’ values and his lack of identity that prevented him from sharing them, because he would no longer have to hear them talk to him about marriage or procuring a job. Yet it is Krebs’ regard for this decision and the end of this conflict that truly helps the reader to understand this tale. When conceiving of moving out Krebs reflects on the fact that “He would not go down to his father’s office. He would miss that. He wanted his life to go smoothly. It had just gotten going that way.” This quotation demonstrates the true effect of Krebs’ resolution to the conflict of the story, and allows the reader to fully understand his characterization. It would allow him to stay alienated from the complications involved with life’s responsibilities, responsibilities his parents expect him to shoulder. That is why he resolves to “miss” going to his father’s office and explaining his decision. Without any complications from life’s responsibilities (such as taking a wife and landing a “good” job) Krebs believes that his life would “go smoothly.” This is akin to a sort of pleasant numbness, which helps to explain a lot of his actions in the story to the reader such as his wanderings through the town, and his avoidance of any significant relationship with a woman. He is seeking this lack of challenge and sensation because he has lost his identity in war and the days that ensued after it. His solution of running from responsibility, both his own and that placed upon him by his family, allows the reader to understand his characterization and contextualizes all of his other actions and attitudes in this tale.
Krebs’ resolution to the conflict between his parents helps to demonstrate just how severe his apathy is. It also allows the reader to understand that he is actually the victim in the conflict, not his parents. His solution implies that it is less difficult for him to move to another state than to simply do as his parents want him to while living in their home. Simple communication with his parents and with his doting mother, in particular, simply serves to reinforce the conflict between their values and his inability to live up to them. The following quotation, in which Krebs is talking to his mother, demonstrates this fact most dramatically.
“Don’t you love your mother, dear boy? “No,” Krebs said. His mother looked at him across the table. Her eyes were shiny. She started crying. “I don’t love anybody,” Krebs said. It wasn’t any good. He couldn’t tell her, he couldn’t make her see it. It was silly to have said (Hemingway).
This quotation illustrates the full extent to which Krebs has lost his identity. He does not even love his own mother, who is obviously very caring and affectionate. Moreover, he does not even love himself, which the reader knows because he tells her that he does not love “anybody.” These parts of Krebs, which once formed the fabric of his identity, are now inaccessible to him because they represent those things that once made him fell “cool and clear” inside and which he lost in the days since he returned home after the war. What is significant about this passage in which Krebs shares this information with his mother is that he is displaying the sort of honesty that he was not when he initially came home from the war, when he would lie to people about his encounters there. This sort of honesty is actually his first attempt to reconcile the conflict between him and his parents. It fails, it only hurts his mother and makes the conflict more pronounced, so Krebs decides to leave the state instead, informing the reader that he at least made some attempt to address his problem before eventually succumbing to it.
The primary conflict in “Soldier’s Home” stems from the loss of Krebs’ identity due to his involvement in World War I and his views about it after he returns to America, and his inability to meet his family’s expectations of his former self. This conflict led Krebs to want to seek a staid, trouble free existence in which there were as few responsibilities and hardships incurred as a result as possible. In addition to the evidence already discussed that reinforces the truth of this thesis, such as the fact that Krebs lost the facets of his memory and life before the war that he once valued, that he spurns his parents’ desires to get a good job and to readily marry, and that he has become exceedingly apathetic to the point of losing his love for his mother and himself, there is other evidence to support this claim. Hemingway spends a substantial amount of the text discussing Krebs’ desire for young girls, yet his lack of interest in actually pursuing them. This aspect of his characterization is accounted for by the several allusions to sex and his involvement with prostitution in the war. These events led to the corruption that ultimately resulted in his apathy. Another good example of the apathy evinced by Krebs’ solution of moving out in order to alleviate the conflict between his behavior and the expectations of his parents is his lack of a relationship with God. He cannot summon a prayer with his mother when she asks him too. That is just another part of his life that he lost in the war, which creates conflict between him and his parents.
Hemingway, Earnest. “Soldier’s Home.” Strong Brain. 1925. Web. http://www.strong-brain.com/Reading/Texts/hemingway-soldiers-home.
McDonnell, John “Hemingway and the Iceberg Theory.” McDonnell Writing. 2010. Web. http://mcdonnellwrite.blogspot.com/2010/01/hemingway-and-iceberg-principle.html
Petrarca, Anthony. “Irony of Situation in Ernest Hemingway’s “Soldier’s Home.” The English Journal. 58 (5): 664-669.
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