The short story Soldier’s Home by Ernest Hemingway is a thought provoking look into a soldier’s life, before and after a major war. Just as opinions vary on the topic of war, opinions also vary in responses to this story. This story leaves much to interpretation as the reader gets farther and farther into Krebs’ world and the emotions that he is struggling with. The interpretation by the readers can be summed up as both feelings of sorrow for Krebs and aggravation that Krebs will not get over his past and continue on with his future.
My own interpretation was written as a person who served in the military but never was involved in a war. The military changes many things in a young person; in fact “military service in general is enough to change a person’s life, a person’s views, and even a person’s religion” (“reader”, response 19). I felt sorrow for Krebs. The young boy enlisted in the Marines to help his country. In this process he became a man as he was subjected to the horrors of World War I. His life was changed, changed so drastically that upon his return to this small town, his life no longer fit in its former place. Krebs became confused and reclusive as he struggled to find a place, a place not only in his town, but also with his family. Life was no longer simple for Krebs, things that had been simple prior to his leaving had suddenly become complicated, and “He did not want them themselves really. They were too complicated” (154) in reference to his women issues. His sorrowful situation led many readers to formulate their responses based on his life and the complications he now endures.
Although reader 1 seemed not to have been in the military they came to the same conclusion as me, “I felt such sympathy for Krebs because he seemed so lost and confused” (“reader”, response 1). The reader goes on to compare Krebs’ trouble with the trouble Vietnam veterans endured upon their arrival back home. This is understandable as it gives people in my generation something to relate this story to.
The Vietnam War was mentioned a few times in some of the twenty or so readers’ responses. Response 4 says “Although written in 1923, it (is) more recognizant of the Vietnam War”. The Vietnam War is told though many stories, TV shows, movies, and any other form of media you can think about. This war had a profound effect on civilians and as such has led some readers to compare Krebs’ life to Vietnam veteran’s lives. The familiarity of the Vietnam War allowed some people to relate to Krebs’s position in life.
Another familiarity that the readers seemed to relate to is relationships with other people. This too allowed many people to jump into Krebs’ shoes and live a little part of his life. For a strapping young war veteran, Krebs is awfully timid around women other than his family members. Response 12 describes this best “Krebs paints a picture for us that shows how difficult it is to fit back into society after being away fighting a war. Normal feelings that a boy of his age would have seemed to have disappeared or been stripped from him because of his experiences at war and in the military. He talks about seeing girls, but not wanting to make effort or even introduce himself”. In fact an overwhelming number of responses were concerned with Krebs’ ability not to talk to women.
Krebs’ trouble with women is never actually explained so this leads to much writing on the subject in reader responses. Many reasons for this problem were explored such as response 1’s “What hit me the most was how he observed the girls in town and desired to be with someone but didn’t want to put the effort into courting” which seems to blame Krebs for being lazy. However, response 7 read the story twice and came up to this conclusion “I think they (Krebs) took advantage of the German women and used them for sexual relations”. These two responses cover the two extremes in Krebs female problems. This fixation on Krebs’ trouble with women seemed to give most of the readers a common focal point while writing their responses. The Vietnam War and personal relationships gave the readers a familiar topic to discuss.
Even among familiarity I found surprising responses. There were multiple readers who commented on Krebs’ mental stability. This is interesting as it shows a huge educational jump from the early 1900’s to the present day average education. Is it possible that Hemmingway would have agreed with response 2 when they spoke of Krebs “needing a little bit of counseling to help him through it”. The sad part is that according to the preface Hemmingway himself was in a similar situation “This experience haunted him and many of the characters in his short stories and novels” (152). Does this mean that Hemmingway himself could have benefited from this counseling? Whether or not this is true it is an interesting perspective on the story and the author.
The story itself is full of details that give the reader a sense of sorrow. Krebs’ late entry in the war and his overdue return to home almost immediately put the story in a down spiral for the lead character. Readers were quick to point out that Krebs seemed disappointed in coming home late and missing a hero’s welcome. Response 3 “He misses the validation that other returning veterans received”. The validation response 3 talks about seem to me to be a crucial turning point in Krebs’ life. Who can share Krebs’ experiences, if they already have been heard from other soldiers? How can he justify his actions in war, if nobody recognizes him for these actions? Was the war simply a bad dream for Krebs?
These questions probably lingered in Krebs’ head as he sat at home remembering life before the war. Not that life before the war was anything special but it was predictable. He knew what to expect. “Nothing was changed in the town except that the young girls had grown up” (154). The small town boy no longer fit in the predictable small town atmosphere.
Krebs’ own difficulty in dealing with his problems seemed to have led many writers to have similar problems in explaining their opinions about the story. This hopelessly depressing individual does little to resolve his problems during the course of the short story. It is fair to say that Krebs is not any better off at the end of the story than at the beginning. This caused some responses to be written with a confused overtone. Response 12 insists “I found it hard to find a main point to this story. While reading the story I thought that it was going to lead up to a main event. Instead the story seemed to just stop at the end with no real point.”
I believe certain people will take to this story and understand it. The story is written by a man who was scarred when he was younger in virtually the same manner as the lead character Krebs. “At the Italian front, he was seriously wounded” (152). The story is very personal and not meant for everybody who reads it. The experiences in the story, however do offer a glimpse into the author’s own life, his own trials and tribulations in dealing with his personal demons.
The Soldier’s Home provides many avenues that readers can respond to, several characters and their interactions in the story can be explored. Each response was written as the reader interpreted the story. As such, some responses differed, but many responses dealt with an overwhelming sorrow for Krebs and his situation as well as he moved forward with his life and coming to terms with his past.
Hemingway, Ernest. “Soldier’s Home.” The Bedford Introduction to Literature, 6th
Edition. Ed. Michael Meyer. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s. 2002. 152-57.
“Reader Responses to Soldier’s Home.” Literature and Composition. 10 Feb., 2003.
Rating: 4 out of 5