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Krebs is the protagonist of Ernest Hemingway's short story "Soldier's Home," which is set in 1919, after World War I is over. Krebs was not drafted like so many others were; instead, he enlisted in the Marines in 1917. Once he served his two-year stint in the Marines, he came home.
Unfortunately for him, by the time he came home the war was over and so were the celebrations. The narrator explains it this way:
By the time Krebs returned to his home town in Oklahoma the greeting of heroes was over. He came back much too late. The men from the town who had been drafted had all been welcomed elaborately on their return. There had been a great deal of hysteria. Now the reaction had set in. People seemed to think it was rather ridiculous for Krebs to be getting back so late, years after the war was over.
So, not only was there no fanfare to celebrate his homecoming, but Krebs had to face the questions and jokes about why it took him so long to get home. Of course this is not fair to Krebs, as he did an honorable thing by enlisting and serving even more time than those who were drafted, but people are often careless. As the story progresses, we learn that people are rather shallow and selfish in their patriotism. They have an idea of what war is, and that's all they care to hear about it.
The result of this, shall we say, underwhelming homecoming is that no one wanted to hear about anything that really happened in the war. They wanted to hear heroic tales of valor, not the truth. No one would listen to him unless he lied, so he began to lie.
He told them what they wanted to hear, but doing so made him feel sick inside. Only when he was in the company of some fellow soldiers was he able to share the truth that every soldier experienced:
that he had been badly, sickeningly frightened all the time.
Living this kind of double life, or at least by this double standard, was slowly eroding his soul.
In this way he lost everything.
Living a lie has isolated him, and he lives his days in aimless pursuits which are unfulfilling and unprofitable. He makes no effort to develop any relationships because relationships are complicated and would cause him to have to re-engage in life--something he has no interest in doing.
In the end, this way of life and thinking causes him to hurt his mother. She is the one person he tells the truth to; when she tries to coax him into getting a life and tries to appeal to his love for her to make that happen, he tells her
"I don't love anybody."
He means it, of course, but he can see that she is devastated and has to backtrack and tell her he was just kidding. He begs her to believe him, and she does, but it is the beginning of the end for Krebs. Now he knows he will never be able to speak his own truths and his life is now a permanent lie.
Be sure to check out the excellent eNotes sites below for more analysis and insights about this and other Hemingway works.
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