Soldier\'s Home

He knew he could never get through it all again. "Soldier\'s Home"
"I don\'t want to go through that hell again." The Sun Also Rises In
the works of Ernest Hemingway, that which is excluded is often as significant as
that which is included; a hint is often as important and thought-provoking as an
explicit statement. This is why we read and reread him. "Soldier\'s
Home"is a prime example of this art of echo and indirection. Harold Krebs,
the protagonist of "Soldier\'s Home," is a young veteran portrayed as
suffering from an inability to readjust to society--Paul Smith has summarized
previous critics on the subject of how Krebs suffers from returning to the
familial, social, and religious"home"(71). Moreover, as Robert Paul
Lamb notes, the story is also about "a conflicted mother-son
relationship"(29). Krebs\' small-town mother cannot comprehend her son\'s
struggles and sufferings caused by the war. She devotes herself to her religion
and never questions her own values; she manipulates her son. She is one of the
Hemingway "bitch mothers" who also appear in "The Doctor and the
Doctor\'s Wife" and "Now I Lay Me." Her sermons to her son lack
any power to heal his spiritual wounds. She has determined that Krebs should
live in God\'s "Kingdom," find a job, and get married like a normal
local boy (SS 151). Although Hemingway locates the story in Oklahoma and
excludes it from the Nick Adams group, the husband and wife relationship
observed in"Soldier\'s Home"is also similar to those in "The
Doctor and the Doctor\'s Wife" and "Now I Lay Me," revealing the
mother\'s dominance of a troubled marriage. Krebs\' noncommittal father is
obviously dominated by his wife; she makes the decisions. Her advocacy of
marriage for Krebs is ironic: not yet recovered from his various psychic wounds
and trapped by the sick marriage of his parents, marriage is the very commitment
he must avoid. Furthermore, a careful reading of "Soldier\'s Home"
reveals yet another story discernible beneath the main one. Krebs\' indifference
towards the girls in the town seems to reflect his disillusionment not only with
the 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 him
and not wanted to talk. But here at home it was all too complicated. He knew he
could 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 be
a lover, and "again" suggests that Krebs has been through this process
before. Descriptions of Krebs\' lack of involvement with the local girls occupy
one 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 "He
had tried so to keep his life from being complicated"(152). The latter
quotation suggests that the most difficult problem is not the complicated realm
of the girls, but Krebs\' fear of the complexity that might result from any
approach he might make. Once he talks to a girl, he must get through a
complicated sexual encounter all over again. Conversations, for Krebs, make the
male/female sexual relationship complicated. His aversion to such relationships,
we are to infer, derives from previous experiences with women that have perhaps
reinforced his observations of his parents\' marriage. As many have noted (see
Smith 71-72), one of the photographs discussed in the story\'s opening paragraphs
suggests an unsatisfactory experience with German girls. Krebs and another
corporal, both in poorly fitting uniforms, stand with two German girls Who are
"not beautiful"beside a Rhine that "does not show in the
picture"(145).[1] The picture suggests an irony: the American soldiers,
once enemies, date German girls with whom they share no common language. Because
the American soldiers do not have to talk, and because the German girls are
probably prostitutes, relationships between them are uncomplicated. Without any
need for conversation, the soldiers simply satisfy their lust on the
prostitutes\' bodies. Just as he emphasizes the German girls\' lack of beauty,
Hemingway also erases the Rhine to show the lack of romance in such
relationships. In "Soldier\'s Home," he juxtaposes two worlds: the
simple one Krebs shared with the German girls, and the potentially complicated
realm of the hometown girls. "A Very Short Story," written between
June and July 1923, helps shed light on this aspect of the later "Soldier\'s
Home," composed in April 1924. An equally bleak story, also a