Describe the conflicts revealed in the conversation between Mrs. Krebs and Harold at the end of "Soldier's Home." What losses on Harold's part does the talk reveal?
Harold Krebs has returned to his small Oklahoma town after serving as a Marine in some of the most important battles of World War I. After facing the horrors of the war, Krebs claims he simply wants to avoid "consequences" and for his life to go "smoothly." He's unable to effectively communicate his experience and one way of coping is to spend time reading books about the engagements he participated in. Other than that, he spends his time sleeping late, playing pool and generally doing nothing.
This behavior clashes with the middle class and protestant ethics of his parents. The conflict between Harold and his parents comes to a head one day as his religiously devout mother challenges him to break out of his idleness and get on with his life. One definite conflict is that his mother continues to treat him as a child rather than a man who has fought for his country. She cannot even bring herself to pay attention when he tries to describe his experiences in the war. Instead, she claims that his father wants him to use the car to take out girls and that Harold should try to get a job. She says,
"But you are going to have to settle down to work, Harold. Your father doesn't care what you start in at. All work is honorable as he says."
The mother simply wants Harold to be her obedient child once again. Krebs attempts to avoid the entire situation because it does not fit into his conception of a life without consequences. His mother, however, continues, and demands to know if Harold even loves her. This brings out the worst in Harold as he says he doesn't love anybody. For her part, the mother then shames Harold into an apology by crying:
"I didn't mean it," he said. "I was just angry at something. I didn't mean I didn't love you."
This emotional blackmail seems to drive a final wedge between mother and son as he claims "none of it had touched him" and that he felt sorry for his mother because she had made him lie. He has lost his sense of respect for her in the face of the prayers, and pleadings about how she had held him next to her heart when he was a baby.
Even though he admits he cannot love and cannot pray, the episode brings Harold out of his lethargy. In the end, he says he will go to Kansas City and get a job just so his mother would "feel all right about it." He also realizes that his attempt to live a life without consequences is over. He simply cannot avoid complications:
He wanted his life to go smoothly. It had just gotten going that way. Well, that was all over now anyway.
He also suggests in the very final line that maybe he can love again as he says he will go watch his sister play indoor baseball. Earlier in the story, his sister Helen had said that if he didn't come and see her play, then he didn't love her. This last sentence may indicate that Harold is once again able to deal with the consequences of love and work and all those things that make up a life.