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Soldier's Home Critical Analysis

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Home Sweet Home: Or Is It?

By looking at the title only, our first impression, in Ernest Hemingway's "Soldier's Home" may be a story of an old soldier living out the remainder of his life in an institution where veterans go to die. We soon find out that the story has nothing to do with the elderly; rather, it tells the story of a young man, Harold Krebs, only recently returned from World War I, who has moved back into his parents' house while he cannot figure out what he wants to do with the rest of his life. And yet our first impression lingers with good reason: although his parents' comfortable, middle-class lifestyle used to feel like home to Harold Krebs, it no longer does. Krebs is not home; he has no home at all. As if he did not want to come back home, Krebs is the last soldier in his hometown to return home from the war. This is actually not an uncommon scenario among younger people, even such as college students, returning into the place of their childhood again. But with Harold, the situation is more dramatic because not only has he been on his own but has dealt with and been traumatized by life-and-death situations his parents and non-combatants cannot possibly understand.

Wherever he was in the time between, by the time Harold gets home, the novelty of the returning soldier has long since worn off. All the young men who did not go to war have found a niche for themselves in the community, but Harold seems lost: he plays pool, "practiced on his clarinet, strolled down town, read, and went to bed" (171). What he is doing, of course, is killing time. The problem has to do with Harold's definition of who he has become. He recognizes he has changed, and this change is played out dramatically against the backdrop of a town where nothing else has changed since he was in high school. His father parks the same car in the same place; it's still the same car; the girls walking down the street look like the same ones, except more of them have short hair now. What has really happened here? Why is Krebs unable to adjust to life back in Oklahoma? Why can't he talk to girls or manage to do anything productive with all of his spare time? These answers can be found in a careful examination of what Krebs was doing before the war and what happened while he was in Europe. Prior to the war, Krebs attended a Methodist school in Kansas. He was not out of place then; the narrator states, "There is a picture which shows him among his fraternity brothers, all of them wearing exactly the same height and style collar" (170). There is a tremendous significance in this detail; at least one of these young men would soon be shipped overseas to the most horrific war the world has ever known. The fact that his college was a religious institution is also significant, for it shows that he was, at that time, parallel to his mother's religious values.

At least he did not have any reason to doubt the other soldiers, or not enough to resist them. When the war broke out Krebs "enlisted in the

Marines in 1917" (170). The marines are a fighting group of both sexes, mostly male, who today advertise they are looking for "a few good men," indicating that if the prospective soldier is not out of the ordinary, he needs not apply.

Was Krebs a good marine? It does indicate in "Soldier's Home" that he did not fight bravely in the war. We know for sure that he was "badly, sickeningly frightened all the time" (171). Certainly his experiences were not glamorous, and he brings home quite a collection of battle-scarred baggage, not the least of which is his guilt over having to live a lie. Krebs even connects the politics of courting with "lying," (170) which makes him feel "nauseated"(170). His mother pressures him

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