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Theme is the reoccurring main idea throughout a passage. Sometimes the theme can be identified easily and other times not. In Ernest Hemmingway’s story “Soldier’s Home”’ the theme is more implied not obviously stated. This story’s theme is revealing the struggles returning soldiers face readjusting to non-combat living and how war changes them. Hemmingway based this story on his own experiences when returning from war. The reader is able find the theme through multiple ways such as the character’s mannerisms, actions and reactions to his family, and internal conflict with intimacy and companionship.
After Krebs, Hemmingway’s representative character, returns home from war, he acts as if he has no self-motivation. The author gives a very detailed list of this young man’s daily activities or standard routine he followed:
During this time, it was late summer, he was sleeping late in bed, getting up to
walk down town to the library to get a book, eating lunch at home, reading on the front porch until he became bored, and then walking down through the town to spend the hottest hours of the day in the cool dark of the pool room. He loved to play pool. (Hemmingway 158)
When Krebs was off at war, he was trained to a routine that he followed for almost two years. He had been so accustomed to living the life of a soldier, that once he returned, he did not know what to do. He found a way to cope by creating a new consistent routine that he could follow, just like at war. “’Charly Simmons, who is just your age, has a good job and is going to be married’” (Hemmingway 161). Krebs’ mother makes this comment one morning at breakfast. His mother tries to make a comparison to a local boy that might not have served in the war, unlike Krebs. This is where the theme comes into play. Krebs has finally found himself a routine that makes him feel as “normal” as possible but is not comparable to the other young men his age. He struggles with transitioning into the ideal middle class American that his parents want him to become.
Not only did Krebs have negative reactions toward his parent’s ideas and comments, but he also acted negatively. After returning home, his parents tried to be as lenient as possible. They allowed him to lounge around until they felt it was the right time to get back into the swing of things. A conversation arose between Krebs and his mother about his father’s car. His parents decided that he should be allowed to drive it and take “nice” girls out. His father took pride car because he drove his real estate clients around in it, and before the war Krebs would have never been allowed to. The conversation then continued to the point Krebs was opposed to the idea, because that is not what his intentions were yet. This led to his mother questioning if he even still loved her and he said he loved no one, the negative reaction. After seeing the hurt and tears on his mother’s face he felt terrible. He then tried to convince his mother that he didn’t mean what he said, and he really did love her (Hemmingway 161-162). This caused his negative action: lying. He lied to his mother, he really did mean what he said. Lying had become common for Krebs. His untruthfulness came about when he realized that no one was interested in his true war stories. Everyone wanted to hear the fantasy version of war, the truth was boring. So in order to keep his listeners, other than his mother and sister, intrigued he added some embellishments. He wanted to seem as a bigger hero than the reality of it. After telling these modified stories he could not even differentiate between what happened and what was made up. This ties to the theme because this was the only way he felt accepted, wanted by peers, and ultimately fit back into this small-town society. This was his normal and how he adjusted. Eventually, he grew tired of the lying and was just uninterested if people wanted to hear his stories or not.
When someone thinks about young couples, such as newlyweds, think of the companionship of the two, the intimacy, and the infatuation they can see. Krebs, being young and fresh from war, would be ready to fall in love with a girl and start a family. Once back, he noticed how much the girls had matured since being deployed. After continuously seeing the same couple of girls pass his house daily, he realized that he wanted a companion. The war taught him otherwise. “Besides he did not need a girl. The war had taught him that” (Hemmingway 159). While away, the French and the German girls were easy. They were there when the men needed and gone when not. Krebs enjoyed that. He liked the fact that there were no strings attached. Most importantly, there was no commitment. These girls were not as nice as the American girls to look at, but they had one real purpose. At home, the girls were much more complicated. Krebs had no wish to pursue them. He would have rather be alone than attempting to create a relationship with one of them. The war forced him to become self-reliant.
Krebs had been so long without a companion, he had wheedled himself believing he did not need one. Since returning, he continued this philosophy. This represents the theme of how war changed him and how he struggled to readjust to the idea of working for love.
In this story, readers are faced with the ugly truth of the returning soldiers. One able to understand the struggle these men and women must face when thrown back into the civilian world and how the war alters their personalities and ways of thinking. The author exhibits these unpleasant traits through Krebs’ mannerisms, actions and reactions towards family members, and his inability to try to form companionships or relationships with any girls in his town.
- Hemmingway, Ernest. “Solder’s Home” Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature:
Reading, Thinking, and Writing, by Michael Meyer, Bedford Bks St
Martin’s, 2017, pp. 158-162.
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