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Soldier’s Home by Ernest Hemingway and War Experiences Research Paper

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Updated: Mar 14th, 2022

Ernest Hemingway’s “Soldier’s Home” was written in 1924, when he was engaged in writing his stories about Nick Adams. In fact, when Nick was narrating his war experiences, there was no need to create another protagonist with another story to do the same job. Therefore, doubt arose among the readers and critics about Hemingway’s hidden intentions. As Kobler puts it, the only probable reason could be that “Hemingway’s apology to himself for the exaggeration of his role in that war lies buried in his creation of ex-Marine Harold Krebs, who, like Hemingway, did not actually do any fighting” says Kobler (Kobler). Though Nick and Krebs are war veterans, there is a clear deviation seen in Krebs. Krebs feels frustrated as he repeats lies about his past. The thesis of this paper is in the form of an argument to convince the readers that Krebs’s laziness comes from his inability to adapt himself to the changing patterns of life, which society imposes on him. Krebs’s life as a soldier wounded him both sexually and psychically, creating a great traumatic effect on him. Hence, this paper probes into the backgrounds leading to his present state of laziness.

Hemingway begins the story with two different photographs in which Krebs is seen posing in two different backgrounds. The first one is with his college fraternity, where he is seen as quite comfortable. The other one is with two girls and a corporal, taken in Germany. The word “pose” becomes significant in the story because Krebs’s life itself becomes a kind of perpetual posing in order to survive in a hostile society. “He did not want any consequences….He wanted to live along without consequences” (Hemingway). There is an implied meaning here that he was forcibly plucked from one social environment and planted into another one. This is what one gathers from his gradual frustration, laziness, and his indifference to the surroundings: “A distaste for everything that had happened to him in the war set in because of the lies he had told” (Hemingway). Krebs has come home from the war front in Europe, and his past role as a soldier is to be guessed from his present behavior. He cannot convince the people through his stories as these stories have become outdated and uninteresting to the people. Krebs is aware of this. Therefore, he can only withdraw from the outer world and live with the cursed memories of his past. In fact, he “did not want to leave Germany. He did not want to come home. Still, he had come home” (Hemingway). For those who watch him or for the common reader, he looks like an idle man, as he is not interested in anything. To convince them that he is not so is a bit difficult because he is seen either sleeping or reading. At the most, he goes out for a walk. Even the sight of the beautiful girls does not stir him. “When you were really ripe for a girl, you always got one. You did not have to think about it. Sooner or later, it could come. He had learned that in the army”, says the narrator (Hemingway). The photograph with the two girls must have created an impression among the readers that Krebs is highly sensitive to sex, which he is not. This mysterious behavior of Krebs takes the readers to study various socio-political developments which led to war and its psychological impact on the young generation. The traumatic behavior of Krebs also unravels Hemingway’s hidden experience on the war front, which he narrates in his stories and novels. Thus, Krebs becomes an ideal representative of Hemingway’s lost generation.

The story throws light into the social reality which the war left behind in the last century. Politics in the form of war creates disturbing effects on young men like Krebs. “But here at home, it was all too complicated. He knew he could never get through it all again”, says Krebs, feeling that he is a misfit (Hemingway). Hemingway is known for his understatement in his stories. “Soldier’s Home” to shows that its narration cannot truly represent the actual damage the war has done to Krebs. Therefore, only by penetrating into the laziness of Krebs can one understand the enormous psychic strain to which he was subjected. Though Krebs escaped physically unhurt, he is totally destroyed as a man. He is impotent now. He is not interested in driving a car, nor is he interested in loving a girl. He is bereft of all emotions. He cannot even amuse his mother and sisters. With this fact in mind, one should try to probe into the actual cause of this wooden life of Krebs. What he presents in the story should lead to what is absent, his life on the war front. Every sight of a beautiful girl must be taking him to the sexual experience he had with the French and the German prostitutes. The sight of the two girls in the picture points to the possibility of his heterosexual life. Sex for him has nothing to do with love but with prostitution. It has become a mechanical act. Therefore, his laziness is rooted in his psychic wound, which is further routed in sex. “Soldier’s Home” is a story written by Hemingway; the possibility of Krebs having experienced the tragedy of sexual illness cannot be ruled out. Krebs is only capable of saying “no” to everything his mother asks. His confession that he does not belong to “God’s kingdom” could imply that he belongs to Devil’s kingdom as a result of his sins. The world to which Krebs’s mother and sister belong is familiar to the readers, but Krebs’s world can be understood only by his fellow soldiers. Hence, the character visible on the surface of the story is only the tip of the iceberg; and Krebs, the real protagonist, lies buried beneath the narration. Krebs is torn between the society to which he has returned and the one which destroyed him. “If the individual is always instituted, again and again, by performing the norms laid down by its environment, this may account for Krebs’s difficulties in coping with the narrative of his past upon finding himself in a completely different setting,” writes Ruben. Looking at his family, Krebs feels that “the world they were in was not the world he was in” (Hemingway). He finds the past quite nauseating now. He also finds his identity lost. This is made evident in the short conversation with his mother. Therefore, the story has to be read from the socio-political angle, keeping an eye on the inner struggles of Krebs. It is to be noted that only war books interest Krebs. Probably he wants to verify the truthfulness of the life he lived from the events in the books he reads, as he cannot compare himself with the young people around him. Krebs is a symbol of the lost generation, who finds himself crushed by the senseless attitudes of his parents and society. Krebs’s father’s interest in real estate stands as a contrast to his indifference towards his son. The oversized uniform which he wears in the photograph symbolizes the oversized world into which he was hurled by his parents. His mother’s concern for him comes too late. “Now, you pray, Harold,” she said, and he replied “I can’t”. Even his seductive sister cannot arouse any emotion in him. The real paradox lies in the title itself, “Soldier’s Home”. Which is Krebs’s home is the obvious question: the one with his family in the story, or the one he lived in the war front with the soldiers and the prostitutes?

Krebs represents a mood reflecting the world-weariness of a generation which found itself lost as a result of the mad wars. As given in the introduction to Hemingway in the Anthology of American Literature, “This note of world-weary detachment is a part of the Hemingway mood (Anthology, p 57). “Soldier’s Home” is also, like Hemingway’s other works, an autobiographical story. In order to understand Krebs’s laziness, as discussed above, one must be familiar with Hemingway’s life as a soldier. There is absolutely no need to believe that Krebs is lazy. His laziness is that of Hemingway, and the generation to which he belonged.

Reference

Hemingway,Ernest. “Soldier’sHome”. Web.

Kobler, J. F. “Soldier’s Home Revisited: A Hemingway mea culpa – Ernest Hemingway”. Studies in Short Fiction, Summer, 1993.

De Baerdemaeker, Ruben.: “Performative patterns in Hemingway’s Soldier’s Home”, Hemingway Review (Hemingway Soc., Univ. of Idaho, Moscow) (27:1) [2007] , p.55-73,4-5.

Oliver, Egbert.S. American Literature: An Anthology. Eurasia Publishing House: New Delhi, 2000.

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