Hemingway, Ernest - Soldier's Home

Pre-University Paper, 2003

15 Pages, Grade: 10

Free online reading


1 Introduction
The topic of my “Facharbeit”
What I want to concentrate on

2 Main Part
Plot Summary
Historical Setting of “Soldier’s Home”
Facts mentioned in the story
The Fictional World of Harold Krebs
Language Analysis and Stylistic Devices

3 Interpretation
Short Biography of Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway’s intention

4 Conclusion

5 Bibliography

6 Appendix

1. Introduction

1.1 The topic of my “Facharbeit”

The class was given the task of writing their term papers about “American Short Stories: Facts – Fiction”. The story I chose to work on is Ernest Hemingway’s “Soldier’s Home”. I want to differentiate between the factual and the fictional parts that are contained in this short piece of writing.

1.2 What I want to concentrate on

First of all to make the content of the story clear to the reader of my paper I will present a short summary of the plot.

Due to the fact that “Soldier’s Home” plays in the post war time of World War I, I mainly want to find the factual part in the historical background of this time period. Many of the places and happenings mentioned in the story can be verified in historical reports. I will show several facts within the story and will try to prove them with historical deeds.

Nevertheless this story is not mainly about the war but rather about the consequences for our protagonist Harold Krebs. Therefore I am going to describe the fictional world he lives in. Part of this are his relationships with other people and his outlook on life.

After having presented the fictional world of our protagonist I am going to make a language analysis to show how Hemingway uses certain stylistic devices to stress the meaning of some passages.

Towards the end of my term paper I will try to find out Ernest Hemingway’s intention for writing this short story. The last part will be my personal conclusion of the work done.

2 Main Part

2.1 Plot Summary

Ernest Hemingway’s short story “Soldier’s Home” deals with the post war return of Harold Krebs.

Krebs has been a young Soldier in World War I fighting at several places in Europe. He is one of the last soldiers to come home. The first returnees have been celebrated as heroes but as Krebs arrives nobody wants to hear his war-stories anymore. Due to this lack of attention Krebs starts lying to be figuratively interesting to the other people, for instance the ones in the pool-room, where he spends most of his evenings.

Harold starts to withdraw himself from real life. Every day he gets up late and spends most of his time in the dark pool-room. He likes the nicely dressed young girls walking through town. He would like to have a girlfriend but he is not motivated enough to spend any time flirting with them. It is too much work for him and besides that it does not seem to be worth it.

After he has been home for quite some time his mother wants to talk to him privately while he is having breakfast. She thinks that Harold should start to find an aim in his life to strive for. His parents have been worried about him for quite a while since he has not found a job yet like all the other soldiers have. Mrs. Krebs tells him that she and her husband would like Harold to start going out with girls and settling down to become “a credit to the community”[1]. As his mother asks if her boy still loves her, he replies that he does not love anybody but at the same moment he regrets having said it and tries to console his mother who starts to cry. She asks him to pray with her but as it is his turn to pray he is not able to do so.

As he leaves the house to go down to the schoolyard to watch his little sister play baseball he reflects what has just happened. He decides to go to Kansas City and to get a job there to make his parents happy.

2.2 Historical setting of “Soldier’s home”

Hemingway has set his short story to play in the post war time of World War I. Several of the places and dates mentioned in the story are factual places where the European battles were fought.

After the strenuous and loss-making battles had been ceased many of the soldiers returned to their home countries by ship. On their return there were usually big welcome-celebrations in the harbours where the ships moored. The returnees were celebrated as heroes by the American nation because they were the ones that ended the war and brought glory for the United States.

A rather big amount of these combatants were quite young and could not cope with the cruel and horrible scenarios they had to go through. During the war they had to face death several times a day and saw how their comrades died in the battles. Some of the minds of these young people just could not process these visual impacts.

What makes this situation of the youth even worse are the circumstances they had to face on their return to the United States. Many of them were not able to find a place to work because of the instable economic conditions after the war which negatively affected the labour market. At the end of World War I the USA underwent an economic upswing due to the fact that the USA had become the biggest creditor of the world. But shortly after in the year 1920 the position which America had achieved suddenly changed as the stock market crashed and the companies reacted with mass-discharges.[2]

Also the realization of the fact that all the great sacrifices they had had to make brought little honour or attention[3] made many of the soldiers depressive and disillusioned.

2.2.1 Facts mentioned in the story

If you chronologically go through the story you find many points that are actual facts which sometimes are still realistic today.

It is said that Krebs went to a Methodist College in Kansas[4].It is well known, Methodism is a kind of religion that is quite common and popular in the United States. Kansas is situated in the so-called bible-belt that describes the region of the United States where more churches are situated than anywhere else in the country. So it is not uncommon to go to a religious college especially not where Harold lives.

Another fact mentioned is the return of the 2nd division from the Rhine in 1919. Although it is true that they were stationed in the surroundings of the Rhine River it cannot fully be founded on historical facts.

The battlefields where Harold Krebs fought are mentioned in the short story, such as Belleau Wood, Soissoins, the Champagne, St. Mihiel and the Argonne. They were all actual battlefields during World War I[5].

An additionalal but maybe not such an important fact is that Harold reads the Kansas City Star[6] which is the biggest daily newspaper in the region around Kansas City which mainly means Missouri and Kansas.

On the whole there is one fact that is included throughout the story. The way Harold Krebs feels when returning from war. Many of the young returnees felt aimless as if they had lost their moral in war because of the problems that I already mentioned in 2.2.1. During the war they had to learn that they would not be sufficiently rewarded for the good work they had done, as it is in normal life. Instead they suffered great physical and mental harms. This development of the youth was so important to society that the expressions “lost generation” and “burn-out syndrome” were coined for some literature of that time and the psychological defect of the soldiers.

2.3 The fictional world of Harold Krebs

The world that Harold Krebs lives in is described in two stages within the story. One stage is how his life was before he went to war and the other stage is life after war. The pre-war life is described in the first paragraph of Hemingway’s story. Harold went to a Methodist college in Kansas which gives us a hint that he at least was raised in a religious family or surroundings. The relationship to other people in the community especially young people, his age, was also intact. This argument is based on his being surrounded by all his fraternity brothers. He was part of the unity and the society of campus life. The Methodist religion is a very strict one which sets great store by loving and caring for other people[7]. The reality in which he found himself during war was the total opposite of what he had learned in church and the religious college. This was one reason for his sudden turn when coming back from Europe.

The second picture portrays him as a soldier being in Germany during World War I in the Rhine region. He is shown with another corporal and some German girls. Both, Harold and the other soldier “look too big for their uniforms”[8] which tells us that Krebs has grown up or at least changed during the war. These two very contrary pictures represent the breach in his life before he went to war and after having returned.

Harold Krebs’ biggest problem after his war-return is the situation he finds in his home town. Nothing has changed since he went away. His father’s car is still parked where it used to before the war and the girls he went to school with are still the same as they have always been. They have just grown up like he did.

This world seems to be of a familiar kind to the reader however it appears to be so foreign for Krebs because nothing has changed during the war time except for his own personality and outlook on life. He is feeling misunderstood by his own parents or at least by his mother. He does not feel at home anymore because the small-town-life cannot be compared to the experiences he went through during the war. This phenomenon of not feeling comfortable in the old home is relatively common among young people and especially college students returning to their real home.[9] His reaction to this fact is the withdrawal from life which is represented in his every day process which consists of “…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”[10]. He spends most of his time with activities that do not require any social contact.

His relationship with other people whether they are his own family-members or the “good looking young girls” that walk through town became disturbed by his inability to adjust back to normal life in the mid-west. Krebs would like to have a girlfriend but he is afraid of the possible causing of too many consequences of a relationship can bring with. This uninterested behaviour of Krebs towards the other sex is expressed in the sentence “It wasn’t worth it.”[11] which is his excuse for the missing interest. What bothers him about the girls in his home town is that they are too complicated to be with. He states while being with the German or French girls “[there] was not all this talking”[12]. Krebs wants to live an uncomplicated life after the war, therefore a girl would just represent an obstacle in his opinion.

His mother seems to be a well-intentioned woman but she does not see what is going on in Harold’s mind. She tries to readjust him to normal American life and make him “…a credit to the community.”[13]. She does not understand what the war has done to Harold. He tells her that he has lost his faith in God but she either does not want to or cannot understand it, which is expressed in her answer to Harold’s statement “I’m not in His Kingdom.”[14]: “We are all of us in His Kingdom.”8. In the world which Krebs discovered during the war there was no God that could lead you. Mrs. Krebs cannot see the change that her son has gone through. Before he went to war he was in synch with his mother’s beliefs because he went to a religiously-lead college.[15] The person that came back from war did not seem to be her son anymore that is why she is treating him like the little child that left to go to war.

The only person of the other sex that Krebs can build up a relationship to is his younger sister. Because of her not being complicated and easy to get along with. However even she tries starting one of those woman to man conversations that Harold does not like at all. She asks him whether she is his girl or if he loves her. Krebs is trying to escape from these questions which may lead into a complicated position by his very short and uncomplicated answers like ”Uh,huh.” or “Sure.”[16]. The reason why his little sister is the only female person that he loves is that she will still love him even without him joining the complex discussions that she wants to open.

Mr. Krebs, Harold’s father, does not seem to play a very important role in the social relationship of the family for he is not being acting anywhere in the story but only mentioned casually in the conversations between the mother and her son. The father does not seem to have much authority but seems to play an inferior role in the family because of his absence from this important man-to-man topic.

On the whole it seems as if Krebs’ relationship towards other people was somehow disturbed. He does not seem to be able to build up a connection to another person without having to tell lies. This can be seen at the beginning of the story when he tries to tell other people tales about his war experiences. To be listened to and to give the impression of being interesting he has to make up some war-tales. Even in his own family he has to lie to be loved by his mother. As they are sitting at breakfast and Harold is truthfully replying to his mother’s question if he loves her he sees that being honest does not work out. As his mother starts to cry he understands that he has to lie to calm her down. He starts to play the little boy again that his mother still sees when looking at him.

2.4 Language Analysis and Stylistic Devices

The first thing that appears to the reader when he takes a glimpse at the story is the headline which is an important matter in connection with “Soldier’s Home”. The reader primarily thinks that the story will be about an old soldier living in a soldier’s home. Such an institution is a place where old, retired soldiers live to spend their last days of life.[17] In many people’s minds the expectation of such a home are old men sitting outside in their rocking chairs staring at the ground[18]. This suggestion of interpreting the title of the story is meant to reflect the life of Harold who also came back to his hometown and now lives like being in an old people’s home; withdrawn from life with very little social contact.

The beginning of the text is quite unusual for a short story. The introduction consists of a comparison which is a stylistic device that Hemingway sometimes uses to show how life or feelings towards something have changed between the time before the war, during the war and now after the war. He compares the two photographs of Harold Krebs. The first pictures him with his fraternity brothers that are all wearing the same style collar which is a metaphor of unity and conservatism and makes the way Krebs was raised clear to the reader.

The other photograph shows him as a soldier during World War I. It is said that he and the corporal on the picture “…look too big for their uniforms”[19]. This fact can be interpreted as the development Krebs went through while being in Europe. He has grown up and become mature, which is not visible to his mother since she thinks that he is still the little boy that left America and went to war.

The fact that this short story has a real introduction is quite unusual for this type of story. It looks as if Hemingway wanted to keep it close to the fashion of a novel, at least the beginning of it. Most of the famous short stories start out right in the action when something is happening, so that you are from the beginning on directly in the event.

The type of life Harold wants to live is an uncomplicated one. Hemingway tries to reflect this lack of interest in anything a little more complicated by changing his style of writing when Krebs talks about his expectation of life. The sentences employ short words and rather simple grammar constructions. When talking about the girls and the reasons why they are not good for him he uses sentence patterns which are quite easy: “He did not want to get into the intrigue and the politics. He did not want to do any more courting. He did not want to have to tell any more lies. It wasn’t worth it.”[20] On the other hand Hemingway uses far more complicated sentences when Krebs is talking about the girls and their complicated manners. He uses sentences like: “But they live in such a complicated world of already defined alliances and shifting feuds that Krebs did not feel the energy or the courage to break into it.”[21] Overall the structure of the writing seems to be quite easy which is common for the “Lost Generation” writers that Hemingway belongs to. It also reminds you of the German “Kahlschlagliteratur” which also only consists of simple grammar and sentence structures.

In connection with the girls there is also a metaphor in the text which states that Krebs likes the girls and they all wore sweaters and shirt waists with round Dutch collars. A Dutch collar is a fashion style that people liked to wear at that time. It consists of a close collar that tightly fits around the neck. The other meaning of a Dutch collar is the band that a horse wears across the breast. Either way it stands for restriction and limitation in moving freely. It represents the way Harold’s life is at the moment but vice versa the reader can imagine the kind of life he wants: a free one without any consequences.

Harold’s need for better maps[22] is a metaphor of his inability to locate himself in life and in the social structure. He cannot see what his role in life is.

During the conversation with his mother at the breakfast table Hemingway mentions that “Krebs looked at the bacon fat hardening on his plate”[23] which can also be seen as a metaphor that represents his hardened outlook on life which becomes even worse because of this conversation. The fact that he later leaves the breakfast table shows the way he was treated upon his return. He was left alone with his feelings and depressions.[24]

After having read the short story you can see that Ernest Hemingway wrote the story from Harold Krebs’ perspective. Although the feelings and thoughts of the other people are quite important for the story Hemingway did not choose the omnipotent view to write from but rather embedded the ideas and sentiments of his contemporaries in the dialogues.

3 Interpretation

3.1 Short Biography of Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway was born on July 21st, 1899 in a small suburb close to Chicago called Oak Park. Ernest was one of the six children within the Hemingway family. He had four sisters and one brother.

Oak Park was a very conservative small town which he refers to in one of his stories as being a town of ”wide lawns and narrow minds”. Soon his father taught him the art of hunting and fishing, which he used to spend much time on even in his later career when living in idyllic places like Key West or on Cuba.

After finishing high school he did not go to college like his parents expected him to do but instead took a job as a club reporter at the Kansas City Star which is one of the biggest newspapers in the region of Missouri and Kansas.

By the time of his graduation from high school war broke out in Europe and as soon as he turned eighteen he tried to enlist in the army but they turned him down because of his bad vision. When hearing about the possibility to go to Europe with the Red Cross he signed up for being an ambulance driver. While being on the front in Italy he got hit by an explosion that badly injured his legs.

Upon his return to Oak Park in 1919 he thought the situation to be monotonous. The experiences of war, for instance seeing other countries, and a relationship to an older woman, extraordinarily matured him. Because of the reception of a large amount of money from the insurance for his wounds he was able to live one year without having to work. He spent most of the time at home or at the library to read books. Soon after his return his parents tried to motivate him to get a job or extend his education. Hemingway was often, even after the war, seen in his uniform strolling through town and exaggerating when talking about his war experiences.[25]

3.2 Hemingway’s intention

The parallels that can be drawn between the life of our protagonist Harold Krebs and the author Ernest Hemingway are obvious to the reader. Hemingway’s stories always contain a large amount of autobiographical parts. Hemingway has constantly been an enemy of biographies about him written by others because he found them to be futile. Therefore he tried to write his own biography hidden in his stories.

His texts never originated out of pure imagination and fiction but he to took to a certain extent parts out of his own life and wove them into the stories. His stories are written using his iceberg-principle which states that the story can be read on two different stages. There is an explicit and an implicit one. The “surface” of the story that appears to the reader after a first glimpse is based on the hidden background and meaning of the story[26].

By bringing his own experiences of life into his stories and making them available to a wide audience he can overcome the traumatic scenarios that affected his life. It is somehow a healing process to him when speaking or mostly writing about them.[27]

With “Soldier’s Home” he tries to convey his own war experience and especially the way he felt after having returned from Europe.[28] As already described in the short biography Hemingway’s parents treated him exactly the way Mrs. Krebs does her son. Therefore this sketch character is a direct projection of Ernest Hemingway himself on the protagonist of the short story.

4 Conclusion

In order to write about life, first you must live it!

Ernest Hemingway(*1899, †1961)

After having finished my “Facharbeit” I can look back and conclude. I knew before having done research on my topic that war can have an immense impact on the human’s psyche and change his behaviour. But it was interesting to read and work on a story about one certain case of this phenomenon.

By the time I received the topic I was by some means eager to read one of Hemingway’s stories which I have never done before. I found it interesting to see how the character of the writer has great influence on the plot and to research how one of the greatest authors of our time uses stylistic devices in his stories.

Due to the fact that the extent of my paper was limited, I had to leave out some details of interpretation which would allow to look deeper into what is behind the story but overall, this term paper offers a quite detailed view on the story.


[1] Ernest Hemingway, Soldier’s Home, The Snows of Kilimanjaro and other stories (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1964) 91

[2] cf.. www.r-wolter.de/geschichte/28.htm

[3] cf.. www.cyberessays.com/History/78.htm

[4] Hemingway 85

[5] cf. Microsoft Encarta 2003 Suchbegriff: Schlacht im Wald von Belleau...

[6] Hemingway 89

[7] cf. http://la.gulfcoast.edu/bettymckinnie/soldier's_home.htm

[8] Hemingway 84

[9] cf. www.allfreeessays.com/student/free/soldier’s_home.shtml

[10] Hemingway 86

[11] Hemingway 88

[12] Hemingway 87

[13] Hemingway 91

[14] Hemingway 99

[15] cf. www.allfreeessays.com/student/free/soldier’s_home.shtml

[16] Hemingway 89

[17] cf. www.allfreeessays.com/student/free/soldier’s_home.shtml

[18] cf. Shaw, Albert: “Hospitals for Ex-Servicemen” page 534

[19] Hemingway 84

[20] Hemingway 87

[21] Hemingway 86

[22] Hemingway 88

[23] Hemingway 90

[24] http://la.gulfcoast.edu/bettymckinnie/soldier's_home.htm

[25] http://www.lostgeneration.com/childhood.htm & http://www.lostgeneration.com/wwone.htm

[26] Johnston, Kenneth G.: “The Tip of the Iceberg: Hemingway and the Short Stories”

[27] www.allfreeessays.com/student/free/soldier’s_home.shtml

[28] see Ernest Hemingway: Biography (http://www.lostgeneration.com/wwone.htm)

15 of 15 pages


Hemingway, Ernest - Soldier's Home
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Hemingway, Ernest, Soldier, Home
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Jan Hendrk Hey (Author), 2003, Hemingway, Ernest - Soldier's Home, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/108567


  • guest on 3/25/2010

    good one it helped me alot thank you

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