What is the plot of "Soldier's Home"?

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rareynolds's profile pic

rareynolds | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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Hemingway’s “Soldier’s Home” is a story in which very little, externally, happens. Krebs is a solder who returned from the first World War to his home in a small town in Oklahoma; there is nothing for him to do there, and no one with whom he can discuss his war experiences; he spends his time reading on his porch and watching girls. You could map out the structure of the plot this way:

Exposition: Krebs is a soldier who served in France and Germany.

Inciting incident: Krebs returns after two years’ absence to his home town in Oklahoma. The problem of the story is how Krebs no longer feels “at home” in his hometown.

Rising action: Krebs spends his days idling, reading on his porch, watching girls, and shooting pool.

Climax: His mother finally has a talk with him. The highest point of the action happens when his mother wants to know if he loves her, and he tells her, with brutal honesty, “No.”

Falling action: Krebs immediately regrets his candor; he tells her that he didn’t mean it, and things are smoothed over, with the tacit agreement that he will “find something.”

Resolution: Krebs decides to go to Kansas City and find work. He knows that he can’t stay in his hometown.

Denouement: He realizes that his hope for a life without complication or attachment is impossible.

The real plot of the story, however, is about Krebs' internal state. He is unable to come to terms with his experiences in the war, mostly because there is no one in his town (especially not his family) with whom he can figure out the truth of his feelings. Since he came home much later than other soldiers, he is not even an object of curiosity; he finds himself forced to lie about his experience in order to excite interest, but in doing so he loses whatever moral “value” he was able to derive from the war (“All of the times that had been able to make him feel cool and clear inside himself when he thought of them; the times so long back when he had done the one thing, the only thing for a man to do, easily and naturally, when he might have done something else, now lost their cool, valuable quality and then were lost themselves”). His solitude is absolute and he becomes, ultimately, completely hollow, unable to feel anything (he tells his mother he “doesn’t love anybody,” especially himself). There is a kind of desperate alienation in this final interview with his mother, who thinks of him as the son he was before the war, unaware the the person she is praying for is now a complete stranger.

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epollock's profile pic

epollock | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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The plot of "Soldier’s Home" involves Krebs as the protagonist in conflict with the abstract antagonism of peacetime adjustment. Obviously, those around him expect him to be the little boy he was, and to be unchanged by the war. They therefore assume that he can begin life again as though nothing has happened. The crisis of the story is his conversation with his mother, and the climax is his promise to be a good boy for his "Mummy" (paragraph 86). This portion of the story indicates that his disaffection is approaching total alienation. The resolution, in his decision to go to Kansas City and in his going to watch his sister play ball, suggests a compromise with his disaffection. Though he will continue to feel like an outsider, in other words, he will keep his misgivings to himself, and will fit in, at least externally, with life at home.

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