Ernest Hemingway uses his life as a setting in his short story “Soldier’s Home.” Although this is not considered an autobiography, it indeed contains some relevance to Hemingway’s life and can be interpreted in many ways. “Soldier’s Home” is a story about a young man, Harold Krebs, who returns home from World War 1 in a time in which the country was to “return to normalcy.” His relationship with his family is increasingly deteriorating, he cannot adapt to the changes that have taken place in his community, and he cannot leave the tragic events of the war behind him.
Hemingway grew up in very much the same way, and when a writer can write about their personal experiences, the emotions and creativity are expressed vividly. In “Soldier’s Home,” Hemingway creates an emotional, somewhat autobiographical look at a young soldier returning to society from war. Ernest Hemingway was born in Oak Park, Illinois, in 1899 into an upper-middle-class family. His childhood was not traumatic, but his hostility towards his father and mother increased as he grew older. He saw his father as a “weak and ineffectual” (#87) man and his mother as “strict and domineering” (#87).
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He entered World War 1 as an ambulance driver for the Red Cross in Italy at the United States’ involvement. He was wounded by shrapnel in both legs and confined to a hospital bed in Italy, where he fell in love with the nurse who treated him. Unfortunately, this woman left Hemingway for an older man, leaving Hemingway heartbroken. All of these experiences made the nineteen-year-old Hemingway turn into a man far beyond his years.
The main character Harold Krebs is very much the same as Hemingway. He was raised in a strict religious family in an upper-middle-class town. As Hemingway did, he increasingly became bitter towards his parents during his teenage years. Krebs’s experience in World War 1 changed his outlook on his family, social life, and future. He was the last to return home from the war in his small Kansas town, so the celebrations and congratulations had already been overplayed, and Krebs felt as if he wasn’t necessary. Krebs feels he has to lie to the public to receive the attention and praise he rightfully deserves, leaving him further isolated from society.
Hemingway’s short story “Soldier’s Home” is littered with many forms of symbolism and topics not necessarily apparent to today’s readers. Many of the ironic elements are specific to that period and are very hard for this generation of readers to understand. The title is ironic for two reasons. First, it implies to the reader that the story may describe an elderly veteran comfortably living out the rest of his/her life. The second contradictory fact of the title is its definition. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a “soldiers home” is a recreational hall created by the charity where soldiers can read, play games, and write letters.
This is a place where soldiers are treated respectfully and can relax and relieve the stress of war. After reading the story, this definition is completely the opposite of how Krebs is treated upon returning home. The major symbols in “Soldier’s Home” are Krebs’s parents. Krebs’s relationship with his parents increasingly becomes more hostile, and this represents the veteran’s view of postwar America. Krebs had the most difficulties with his mother, who represents society in postwar America. She does not understand the traumatic events that her son went through and wants things to return to normal.
His dad represents the part of the country that wants to forget about the past and look towards the future. This is shown by his laid-back attitude towards his son, and Krebs’s mother does the talking for him. His sister represents another part of the country that doesn’t acknowledge that the war even occurred. Krebs was expected to deny that his war experience has affected him in any way. Another ironic fact is that Hemingway somewhat refers to the fact that Krebs served in the American Expedition Force (A.E.F.). He served in the Marine Brigade of the Second Division.
This unit of the A.E.F. suffered more losses than any other unit, fought in more than ninety percent more of the combat than any other, and were stationed as part of the Army of Occupation in Germany. These soldiers returned home long after many of the other units had already returned home. In Krebs’s community, along with much of the nation, the information from the war was mainly dulled to prevent a backlash against the government, and no one truly knew the horror of war except for those who served. Hemingway most likely added this detail to the story to emphasize the wide variety of exposure levels to combat.
This resulted in a nation without a clear picture of war, including this small town in Kansas. One of the very hidden ironic points in this short story is when Hemingway wrote and released this work. “Soldier’s Home” was released in 1925, following a federal investigation of the recently established Veterans’ Bureau. This federal office was created to offer compensation and care for the 200,000 Americans wounded in World War 1. The Bureau’s director was very untruthful and irresponsible with the money and how it was used. Many veterans were denied compensation because of his spending and resulted in a protest on the steps of Congress.
In the following years, many veterans had to prove many times over that their injuries resulted from the war. At the time of “Soldier’s Home’s” release, the country was awakened to the insensitivity in this country for its veterans, and this story supported these beliefs. Another ironic fact in “Soldier’s Home” is a connection with Hemingway’s former employer. Near the end of the story, Krebs reads the Kansas City Star, the paper where Hemingway had formally worked.
The symbolism behind this is that Krebs went directly to the sports page without even glancing at any other article. At that time, so many events were happening in the news, but Krebs just wanted to move on without reading about the rest of the world’s problems. To add to his parent’s involvement in the story, his mother warns him not to “muss the paper”. A “Soldier’s Home” by Ernest Hemingway can still be very influential and relative to today’s problems.
Many veterans today still come home feeling unappreciated and envision a grand welcoming that doesn’t occur. The same happens with many college students who return home to a less than magnificent welcome and cannot completely adapt to the sudden change in setting. Hemingway incorporated his own life experiences into this story to add even further attraction to this story and used symbolism to represent society’s insensitivity towards veterans.