What is the setting for Hemingway's "Soldier's Home"?

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The setting for Ernest Hemingway's short story "Soldier's Home" is a town of medium size in Oklahoma. The time is the summer of 1919. Much of the story takes place in the home of the young protagonist named Harold Krebs, who has only recently returned from France and Germany, where he was fighting in important battles in World War I. His mother is a housewife. His father is in the real estate business and deals mostly in farm property. Krebs spends much of his time in the house. Occasionally he walks downtown to the public library. He is doing a lot of reading. Sometimes he goes to the pool room and spends hours playing pool. He is leading a very quiet existence in this town where very little ever happens. It is typical of hundreds of other American towns. Krebs doesn't want any excitement in his life; he had too much excitement in the war and is trying to recover from all the violent emotions he experienced. One passage is especially significant:

He did not want any consequences, He did not want any consequences ever again. He wanted to live along without consequences.



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Stephen Holliday | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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As the previous educator notes, the physical setting of "Soldier's Home" is a small town in the Midwest, not unlike Hemingway's own hometown of Elk Grove, Illinois, to which he, like Krebs, also returned after WWI.  Krebs, however, unlike most of the other veterans from his town, does not return home until almost two years after the war's end, and this late return (temporal setting) is crucial to Krebs' experience as a returning veteran.

The title itself--"Soldier's Home"--creates an ambiguity of setting that many readers overlook.  Hemingway almost certainly intended his readers to understand that the title could be read as meaning that Krebs has returned to his home--the soldier is home. He also intended the second meaning, which would resonate with the readers at the time of the story's publication, referring to a "soldier's home," that is, a home for soldiers, something that was commonly seen after both WWI and WWII. It was a place for soldiers who, for a variety of reasons, did not have a home and family.  The ambiguity, embodied in the temporal and physical setting, is at the heart of Hemingway's story.

Krebs' homecoming is problematic because he comes home to a town that has already welcomed its veterans home:

He came back much too late. . . . People seemed to think it was rather ridiculous for Krebs to be getting back so late, years after the war was over.

Both the temporal and physical settings work against Krebs because the other veterans have had time to decompress from their experiences in the company of others who have shared those experiences, and most of them have returned to their civilian lives.  Krebs, by returning home late and alone, is isolated, a fact that increases his detachment from his surroundings, and he is expected to return immediately to a productive civilian life.

One of the most profound effects, then, of setting is that Krebs, who is clearly suffering from what we know now as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, can find neither anyone with whom to share his experiences nor anyone who understands why he might need time to adjust to civilian life in a small town. His response to this circumstance is to withdraw:

. . . 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. . . .

Krebs demonstrates the classic withdrawal of a veteran suffering from PTSD, a sense of profound isolation illustrated by his ideas about beginning a relationship with one of the young women he sees: "He did not want any consequences.  He did not want any consequences ever again.  He wanted to live alone without consequences."  The setting itself, a small town in which he is the one who came home too late, helps create the sense of isolation Krebs feels because there is no one, literally, who can help him reintegrate himself into this society.  

Krebs' reaction to the setting, which is both a temporal and a physical setting, is to withdraw from both the town and his own home.  Hemingway's conclusion--Krebs decides to leave the town and make his life in Kansas City--points to the reality that Krebs has neither come home nor has he found a home in his hometown. The setting is central to the story, but it represents only a place, not a home.  In the end, the Soldier's Home is no longer in this small town that Krebs once called "home."


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