Soldier`s HomeHe knew he could never get through it all again. “””I don’t want to go through that hell again.” The Sun Also Rises Inthe works of Ernest Hemingway, that which is excluded is often as significant asthat which is included; a hint is often as important and thought-provoking as anexplicit statement. This is why we read and reread him. “Soldier’sHome”is a prime example of this art of echo and indirection. Harold Krebs,the protagonist of “Soldier’s Home,” is a young veteran portrayed assuffering from an inability to readjust to society–Paul Smith has summarizedprevious critics on the subject of how Krebs suffers from returning to thefamilial, social, and religious”home”(71).
Moreover, as Robert PaulLamb notes, the story is also about “a conflicted mother-sonrelationship”(29). Krebs’ small-town mother cannot comprehend her son’sstruggles and sufferings caused by the war. She devotes herself to her religionand never questions her own values; she manipulates her son. She is one of theHemingway “bitch mothers” who also appear in “The Doctor and theDoctor’s Wife” and “Now I Lay Me.
” Her sermons to her son lackany power to heal his spiritual wounds. She has determined that Krebs shouldlive in God’s “Kingdom,” find a job, and get married like a normallocal boy (SS 151). Although Hemingway locates the story in Oklahoma andexcludes it from the Nick Adams group, the husband and wife relationshipobserved in”Soldier’s Home”is also similar to those in “TheDoctor and the Doctor’s Wife” and “Now I Lay Me,” revealing themother’s dominance of a troubled marriage. Krebs’ noncommittal father isobviously dominated by his wife; she makes the decisions. Her advocacy ofmarriage for Krebs is ironic: not yet recovered from his various psychic woundsand trapped by the sick marriage of his parents, marriage is the very commitmenthe must avoid. Furthermore, a careful reading of “Soldier’s Home”reveals yet another story discernible beneath the main one. Krebs’ indifferencetowards the girls in the town seems to reflect his disillusionment not only withthe war and his parents’ marriage, but also with another experience–Krebs’breaking up with a lover: Now he would have liked a girl if she had come to himand not wanted to talk. But here at home it was all too complicated. He knew hecould never get through it all again. (147-48) Here is a significant ambiguity:”it all” may well connote the whole process of being and ceasing to bea lover, and “again” suggests that Krebs has been through this processbefore. Descriptions of Krebs’ lack of involvement with the local girls occupyone fourth of the story. These descriptions converge around the word”complicated,” repeated four times in this context. The girls live in”a complicated world” (148); “They were too complicated”(148); “it [to talk to a girl] is too complicated” (149); and “Hehad tried so to keep his life from being complicated”(152). The latterquotation suggests that the most difficult problem is not the complicated realmof the girls, but Krebs’ fear of the complexity that might result from anyapproach he might make. Once he talks to a girl, he must get through acomplicated sexual encounter all over again. Conversations, for Krebs, make themale/female sexual relationship complicated. His aversion to such relationships,we are to infer, derives from previous experiences with women that have perhapsreinforced his observations of his parents’ marriage. As many have noted (seeSmith 71-72), one of the photographs discussed in the story’s opening paragraphssuggests an unsatisfactory experience with German girls. Krebs and anothercorporal, both in poorly fitting uniforms, stand with two German girls Who are”not beautiful”beside a Rhine that “does not show in thepicture”(145). The picture suggests an irony: the American soldiers,once enemies, date German girls with whom they share no common language. Becausethe American soldiers do not have to talk, and because the German girls areprobably prostitutes, relationships between them are uncomplicated. Without anyneed for conversation, the soldiers simply satisfy their lust on theprostitutes’ bodies. Just as he emphasizes the German girls’ lack of beauty,Hemingway also erases the Rhine to show the lack of romance in suchrelationships. In “Soldier’s Home,” he juxtaposes two worlds: thesimple one Krebs shared with the German girls, and the potentially complicatedrealm of the hometown girls. “A Very Short Story,” written betweenJune and July 1923, helps shed light on this aspect of the later “Soldier’sHome,” composed in April 1924. An equally bleak story, also a mixture ofHemingway’s own experiences and fictitious material, “A Very, ShortStory” appeared first as the untitled Chapter Ten in the 1924 threemountains press in our time, and was later titled and revised for inclusion inthe 1925 Scribner’s In Our Time. The crucial difference between the two versionsis that the name of the protagonist’s lover has been changed from Ag in the 1924edition to Luz in the 1925 edition. It is well known that the love affairbetween a wounded soldier and a nurse, as well as the miserable end of thataffair, are based on Hemingway’s own experience of being jilted by Agnes vonKurowsky. However, the story’s conclusion, where the protagonist has a sexualencounter with a sales girl in a taxicab and contracts gonorrhea, is consideredfictitious. As Robert Scholes and Scott Donaldson have observed, this conclusionreflects Hemingway’s undisguised anger towards “Ag” and his ownself-pity. Taking some expressions and ideas directly from Agnes’ “DearJohn” letter of 7 March 1919 (qtd. in Villard and Nagel 163-64), Hemingwaydrew the raw materials for “A Very Short Story” from his ownexperience. If “A Very Short Story” is one version of Hemingway’sunhappy love affair with Agnes, “Soldier’s Home” may be another–moresophisticated because its author’s bitterness is more sublimated. The”it” in “never get through it all again” may fruitfully beinterpreted as Hemingway’s suffering after he received the letter from Agnes. Hedescribes Krebs’ self-protective attitude, his aversion to being trapped byanother love affair that may bring him new pain: “It was not worth it. Notnow when things were getting good again” (148). Krebs does not want to bedisturbed; it is good enough for him simply to “look at” girls on thestreet (147,148). He is able to keep his mind peaceful by avoiding talking tothe girls. Although the first part of the story suggests that some of Krebs’trauma has been caused by the war, a related and complementary inference is thathe may also be recovering from the shocks of a failed love affair. In The SunAlso Rises, Brett Ashley speaks of her inner torment–“I don’t want to gothrough that hell again” (SAR 26)–in language that echoes Krebs’. Brettrebuffs Jake. Because of his impotence, Jake and Brett can never fully satisfyeach other. “That hell again” suggests both their unconsummated loveaffair and their suffering from the hesitant and inconsequential encounters theyhave already experienced. Both Krebs and Brett decline to repeat suchexperiences. When we consider the intentionality behind Hemingway’sintertextuality, we realize that both characters share a deep wound. In”Soldier’s Home,” Hemingway avoids any explicit description of whathappened to Krebs during the war, especially in the matter of the love affair.
Instead, Hemingway portrays Krebs’ postwar reaction to the town girls, and wenote his condition and behavior, and infer a cause. Both the physical distancebetween Krebs and the girls and his role as onlooker give him a sense ofsecurity. While Krebs remains in a safety zone “on the front porch,”he is protected. The girls walk “on the other side of the street”;nothing can touch him (147-48). Like sophisticated Brett Ashley, thesesmall-town Oklahoma girls celebrate a new era with short skirts and short hair.
Krebs admires them, yet he protects himself from the danger of sexualinvolvement as if he were still suffering from a previous affair. He has tocontrol himself. Only as an onlooker can he avoid the “complicatedworld”: But they [the girls] lived in such a complicated world of alreadydefined alliances and shifting feuds that Krebs did not feel the energy orcourage to break into it.(147) Ironically, Hemingway uses the terms”alliances” and “feuds,” words appropriate to conflictsbetween nations and families, to describe the girls’ complicated world.
Moreover, he uses related terms to describe Krebs’ feelings towards that world:”He did not want to get into the intrigue and the politics” (147). Byemphasizing discord and friction, such terms suggest a conflict alreadyexperienced by Krebs, a conflict further revealed as follows: He did not wantany consequences. He did not want any consequences ever again. He wanted to livealong without consequences. Besides he did not really need a girl. (147) Therepetition of “consequences” sounds too portentous for the previousproblem to have been a merely casual love affair. The discontinuity betweenKrebs’ prewar and postwar periods is obvious. Through the experience of battle,he seems to have lost his belief in God and the Kingdom which his mother claims.
Krebs is isolated, having lost all feeling of belonging or togetherness. But heis attracted by the girls’ “patterns” which represent theiridentification with a group, an identification he once shared. Perhaps his is abitter and only half-realized nostalgia. Here is a veteran, a possiblyheartbroken young man, who keeps himself away from the complex world, stays onthe porches, and simply watches girls on the street. However, Krebs makes anexception for his young sister Helen. She is accepted in his realm. She extractshis pledge to be her “beau”(150). On a superficial level, she seems tobe just another girl attempting to pull him into a complex world; however, inher innocence she intends no such thing. An incestuous relationship betweenbrother and sister is suggested in Hemingway’s later, posthumously publishedwork “The Last Good Country” and its related manuscripts (NAS 70-132).
But here, in “Soldier’s Home,” there is no hint of incest. Thebrother-sister relationship remains a simple form of love in “Soldier’sHome.”The young sister’s love for her brother is a mixture of respect andinnocent affection. Her regard and love have a healing effect on Krebs. Althoughshe is as talkative as her mother, Helen’s invitation is to a simple world.
Moreover, Krebs, who has yet to exchange a word with the girls in the town,enjoys talking with his sister because there is no danger of being trapped inthe complex man-woman world. Krebs simply accepts her invitation, and goes tothe schoolyard to see her pitch, as proof of their mutual love. Thus,”Soldier’s Home” is a sophisticated story of a variously woundedveteran’s return home. While “A Very Short Story” is a relativelyexplicit story of heartbreak, revealing biographical raw materials and theauthor’s anger, “Soldier’s Home” is a more refined and distancedtreatment of Hemingway’s own experiences during and after the war. Later, thesesame experiences, more refined and distanced still, will find expression inperhaps the ultimate veteran’s story, “Big Two-Hearted River.”BibliographyDonaldson, Scott. “‘A Very Short Story’ As Therapy.” Hemingway’sNeglected Short Fiction: New Perspectives. Ed. Susan F. Beegel. Tuscaloosa: U ofAlabama P, 1992. 99-105. Hemingway, Ernest. in our time. Paris: three mountainspress, 1924. —–. In Our Time. New York: Scribner’s, 1925. —–. The NickAdams Stories. New York: Scribner’s, 1972. —–. The Short Stories of ErnestHemingway. 1938. New York: Collier, 1987. —–. The Sun Also Rises. 1926. NewYork: Scribner’s, 1970. Kennedy, J. Gerald and Kirk Curnutt.”Out of thePicture: Mrs. Krebs, Mother Stein, and ‘Soldier’s Home.'” The HemingwayReview 12.1 (Fall 1992): 1-11. Lamb, Robert Paul. “The Love Song of HaroldKrebs: Form, Argument, and Meaning in Hemingway’s ‘Soldier’s Home.'” TheHemingway Review 14.2 (Spring 1995): 18-36. Scholes, Robert. Semiotics andInterpretation. New Haven: Yale UP, 1981. Smith, Paul. A Reader’s Guide to theShort Stories of Ernest Hemingway. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1989. Villard, HenrySerrano and James Nagel. Hemingway in Love and War. Boston: Northeastern UP,1989. Donaldson, Scott. “‘A Very Short Story’ As Therapy.” Hemingway’sNeglected Short Fiction: New Perspectives. Ed. Susan F. Beegel. Tuscaloosa: U ofAlabama P, 1992. 99-105. Hemingway, Ernest. in our time. Paris: three mountainspress, 1924. —–. In Our Time. New York: Scribner’s, 1925. —–. The NickAdams Stories. New York: Scribner’s, 1972. —–. The Short Stories of ErnestHemingway. 1938. New York: Collier, 1987. —–. The Sun Also Rises. 1926. NewYork: Scribner’s, 1970. Kennedy, J. Gerald and Kirk Curnutt.”Out of thePicture: Mrs. Krebs, Mother Stein, and ‘Soldier’s Home.'” The HemingwayReview 12.1 (Fall 1992): 1-11. Lamb, Robert Paul. “The Love Song of HaroldKrebs: Form, Argument, and Meaning in Hemingway’s ‘Soldier’s Home.'” TheHemingway Review 14.2 (Spring 1995): 18-36. Scholes, Robert. Semiotics andInterpretation. New Haven: Yale UP, 1981. Smith, Paul. A Reader’s Guide to theShort Stories of Ernest Hemingway. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1989. Villard, HenrySerrano and James Nagel. Hemingway in Love and War. Boston: Northeastern UP,1989.
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Soldier’s Home. (2019, Feb 24). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/soldiers-home/