War has lasting effects on both the people and cities it raids through. It is a simple word that is associated with extensive disruption. Harold Krebs, a soldier during World War I, experiences this first hand. Ernest Hemingway, in the short story a “Soldiers Home”, uses a variety of paradoxes to illustrate Krebs’s struggle of adjusting back to normal life after the war. This newfound struggle leaves him feeling apprehensive and unsteady about future life and relationships.
A “Soldier’s Home” opens up with Hemingway explaining a picture of Krebs and his fraternity brothers from a “Methodist College in Kansas” (1). This photograph reveals that Krebs, in the past, has had relationships and connections with others. In addition, it says “all of them wearing exactly the same height and style collar” (1). This is important because it suggests that before the war, Krebs found it easy to fit in with everyday society. Hemingway included another photo from the war which showed Krebs and the corporal; they “look too big for their uniforms” (1). The clothes no longer fit perfectly; this could resemble some sort of change occurring in Krebs. While away at war, his experiences are subconsciously having larger effects on his personality.
Krebs came back from the war much later than everyone else and years after the war was over. Ever since Krebs’ return, he has had a difficult time integrating back into society. He is living with the memories of war that only other soldiers would understand. He has been living sort of an unrealistic life. His day to day life has no purpose, and he repeats the same meaningless schedule every day; he has no relationships, no job, and no responsibilities. After the war, despite other returning soldiers, Krebs has had a difficult time connecting with other people. One day, Krebs reached a significant realization:
He sat there on the porch reading a book on the war. It was a history and he was reading about all the engagements he had been in. It was the most interesting reading he had ever done. He wished there were more maps. He looked forward with a good feeling to reading all the really good histories when they would come out with good detail maps. Now he was really learning about the war. He had been a good soldier. That made a difference (3).
Hemingway uses the history book as a paradox for Krebs to learn the truth about the war. The history book prepared Krebs with moving forward. It is also significant that Krebs is reading about his involvement because this is a psychological confirmation that the war is now over and that it did happen. He seems very fascinated on the detailed maps. The maps seem to be a subconscious obsession.
Hemingway emphasizes the use of images to communicate his messages; the photos in the beginning and now the maps in the book. The use of maps is important because maps reveal the truth. They confirm where Krebs fought, and they stand for a certain order. They are something Krebs can connect to emotionally. It was finally something about the war he could understand. To Krebs, maps were something that he did not have to lie about. There where multiple circumstances where Krebs had to lie about his own experiences to talk about what he went through. Hemingway wrote, “later he felt the need to talk but no one wanted to hear about it” (1). It was important for Krebs to talk about these emotions so the healing process could begin, but no one wanted to listen to him, so he found himself lying or taking experiences of others as his own This led to Krebs being untruthful. There is a strong disconnection between himself and the others in the town. Hemingway makes a very clear point that even after their service, the war can have devasting effects on the young soldiers.
Along with self-realization, we see forthcoming feelings of doubt and insecurities. At one point, Hemingway wrote, “you did not need a girl unless you thought about them. [Krebs] learned that in the army” (3). Krebs carries this attitude to every aspect of his life; suppressing the problem, not considering all the things his life is lacking, and thinking he will be fine. This is a way for Krebs to justify his feelings of never loving someone again. It’s easier to shift the blame onto something or someone else, or even repressing the idea all together.
At one point his mother asked, “don’t you love your mother dear boy?” (6). [Krebs’ response] “no. I don’t love anybody” (6). In this context, he felt as though he had lost his connection with God and his mother. The war made him feel as though he couldn’t connect with anyone again, which was heart breaking for his mother. Krebs is struggling with the overwhelming return from the war; he does not truly mean these words.
Hemingway addresses that everything in Krebs’ hometown seems to have stayed the same except for him. Before the war, Krebs was never allowed to drive the family car and, “now, after the war, it was still the same car” (2). However, his mother gave him newfound permission to take it out by saying, “your father does not want to hamper your freedom. He thinks you should be allowed to drive the car. If you want to take some of the nice girls out riding with you, we are only too pleased” (6). She is trying to encourage him to build relationships with girls. Since returning, Krebs has changed so much, and he unconsciously expected for everything else to follow. In reality, he is just seeing everything with a new eye. After the war, Krebs is a different person.
Ernest Hemingway uses a variety of paradoxes to express that war changes a person. The bigger paradox that Hemingway includes is that returning from the war should be the easy part, but Krebs realizes that everything back home is even more complicated. War factors into the personality of the person; therefore, changing their experiences and perspectives. One of Hemingway’s most important arguments is that Harold Krebs has been transformed from the war, but his home has remained the same. As a new person, it can be very difficult to sync back into a life you just do not relate to anymore.
Hemingway, Ernest. “Soldier’s Home.” Sakai, ENGL 105.050.SP20, posted by Paul
Blom, 18 March 2020. Originally published in Contact Collection of Contemporary Writers. Paris: Contact Editions, 1925.