Posted in Short Stories

Ernest Hemingway: Soldier’s Home

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In selecting the Ace of Clubs this week (My Deal Me In 2014 list can be seen here.  DMI is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.), I read Ernest Hemingway’s short story, “Soldier’s Home”, full of disillusionment, despair, and loneliness – all the things that make Hemingway’s stories great.

Harold Krebs returns home from the war (World War I, in this case) to what seems to be a small town in Oklahoma.  The town has had time to “move on”, something Krebs still hasn’t done.  He finds himself frequently lying to people about his state of mind and about the war: “Krebs acquired the nausea in regard to experience that is the result of untruth or exaggeration…”.

On the surface, the story seems to be about Krebs’ lying and his inability to deal honestly with his war experience.  Underneath the surface, though, Hemingway seems to point out, or at least raise the question, that perhaps the rest of the town is lying in their willingness to forget the war and continue on with life.  I enjoyed the story’s tension that could move back and forth between the two.

I found it interesting that Kreb’s mother is portrayed as religious.  Hemingway doesn’t paint her unsympathetically; however, he makes clear that Mrs. Krebs’ faith has nothing to offer her son.  When she expresses her desire to pray for Harold, in typical Hemingway fashion, much is said with little:  “Krebs looked at the bacon fat hardening on his plate.”

Krebs’ father is incredibly distant.  Much of the concern his parents have for him is expressed through his mother as “your father thinks” or “your father said”.  His father is always at work.

Hemingway beautifully brings the reader’s sympathies toward Krebs’ situation of not being able to resolve his war experience as quickly as his parents and hometown would like.  But the town isn’t made up of idiots.  With the usual subtlety and understatement, Hemingway seems to use the town to ask the question “If we don’t move on, what’s the alternative?”.  Good question.


5 thoughts on “Ernest Hemingway: Soldier’s Home

  1. Hi Dale,
    I remember this being a very powerful story. Thought-provoking even if it is a downer. I was reminded of it last year(?) when I read Dan Wakefield’s novel “Going All the Way” about two soldiers returning home to Indianapolis and their struggles to make the adjustment (among other things). Have you read that one? I can’t remember if we’ve talked about it before.

    1. Jay,
      As I’ve continued thinking about Soldier’s Home, maybe Hemingway was saying that there is no moving on from war.

      I read Going All the Way when I still lived in Indy. It was around the time they were filming the Ben Affleck and Jeremy Davies movie version of it. I liked the book a lot. I remember him referencing the Red Key Tavern. I think there was a religious mother in that story, too?

      1. Yes, there certainly was. I enjoyed the film in addition to the book, and I thought Davies in particular “nailed it” with his performance.

        Wakefield is supposed to join us at the Vonnegut book club meeting next week. I hope he is able to make it. He “getting up there” in age and his attendance is contingent upon whether he feels up to it or not. Nice man.

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