Ernest Hemingway’s “Soldier’s Home” is a short story that is part of the collection titled In Our Time which had been described as a book about World War I. The collection of short stories encapsulates the experiences of Americans, British, and Europeans during the 1910s and 1920s which includes the period of World War I to the aftermath known as the Jazz Age. This high-quality literary review discusses how “Soldier’s Home” speaks to the experience of returning soldiers struggling to adapt to civilian life. In doing so, the short story tackles the role of the US government and society in helping veterans understand and cope with their experiences and the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that comes with it, and be able to settle into their homes.
The short story “Soldier’s Home” tells the story of Krebs, a recently-returned Marine who has trouble adapting to civilian life. Krebs served in the war from 1917 to 1919, which he spent in the Rhine. In the story, Krebs’ return to the United States came after the official greeting of heroes when majority of veterans returned (69). Thus, Krebs’ return home was not met with as much enthusiasm as other veterans in his hometown. Along with this, Krebs found that most people were already tired of listening to war stories (69). Furthermore, it appears that the stories of the other veterans were much more exciting than his. So, Krebs, in order to gain the interest of his family and acquaintances, found himself lying. Lying about his experiences made him develop a dislike for them (70). With no one to talk with, Krebs soon found himself feeling out-of-place—he felt too different from the person he was before he enlisted while the town remained virtually the same.
Although “Soldier’s Home” emphasizes on the experience of a singular soldier, Krebs, but it resonates with the experience of other soldiers who were misunderstood and ignored upon their return home. Today, we find thousands of veterans struggling to get the appropriate support and treatment they need for their PTSD and other ailments. Krebs’ struggles upon returning home is miles away from the experiences of veterans who returned home with disabilities that pushed them toward indigence. Krebs did not experience these. Despite the economic instability after World War I, Krebs’ family fared well thanks to his father’s real estate business. Yet Krebs felt a profound alienation that resonates with the alienation experienced by thousands other veterans in the US.
Hemingway focuses on character as the major element of this short story. Aside from Kreb, Mr. and Mrs. Kreb are crucial in the development of the story and Krebs’ continuous alienation from civilian society. Krebs’ family’s indifference toward Krebs echoes the indifference of the US government toward veterans. They operate under the same social and cultural mechanisms that turns “home” into an experience much more unbearable than war. In the Hemingway’s story, “home” or Oklahoma becomes unbearable and boring for Krebs such that he does not take interest in the local current events nor in other civilian recreational activities.
The experience of being at home becomes even worse for Krebs due to his parents’ attitude. They not only do not care about his war experience but also expect him to immediately adapt to civilian life, have “ambitions,” find someone to marry, and so on (71-74). Because Mr. and Mrs. Krebs have not been to war, they do not understand what Krebs is going through, and neither do they wish or attempt to understand. The same is true of civilian society for a long time. However, without understanding the experiences of veterans, society makes it impossible for them to reenter society. Such negligence, thus, leads to further alienation and worsening of the struggles of veterans.
Hemingway’s “Soldier’s Home” paints a vivid picture of what veterans go through after they have returned from the war. Through this short story, we see how veterans struggle with reconciling their experiences, and how it fundamentally changes them as people, with society’s expectations of them. Because of the extremely traumatic experience of war, veterans often lose their sense of cultural identity with their home and need assistance and support to regain their footing. By focusing on the experience of a fictional veteran, Krebs, Hemingway incites a discussion on the way US society treats its brave veterans.
Hemingway, Ernest. “Soldier’s Home.” In Our Time, 1924, Paris: Three Mountains Press, pp. 69-77.