Describe the war's psychological effects upon Krebs in the short story "Soldier's Home."
With much of the same thematic concerns of Eric Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front, Hemingway's World War I veteran, Harold Krebs, returns to his small town in Oklahoma to find that, while he is much altered, the town has remained static and deluded about war. Thus, the title of the story contains a dark irony as it suggests the retirement homes built after World War I for the veterans, places where they could commiserate with each other and speak frankly of the horrors of war and their disillusion, but Krebs must return to a small town in Oklahoma where the citizens yet wish to have war glorified. In addition, the title also implies a double entendre with the one denotation as the actual home of a veteran ( the possessive case of "Soldier"="Soldier's") which he has left to go to war, along with another meaning of the noun/verb contraction "Soldier's=soldier is" home; that is, he has arrived home.
In all cases, none of the meanings are relevant for Krebs. He is not in a retirement home, he has returned, but the town no longer feels like home to him because the residents cannot relate to him as they do not wish to hear the truth of his experiences in such places as the Argonne, preferring tales of glory. Furthermore, his family home is now one in which he himself cannot relate to its members. For, war has alienated him from the delusions of his family, who treat him as he was before going off to war. When, for instance, his mother comes into his room to talk with Krebs, encouraging him to regain the ambition that his father feels he has lost, she speaks to him, saying that his father wants him to get a job. Then, she talks to Krebs as though he were still a boy,
"Your father does not want to hamper your freedom. He thinks you should be allowed to drive the car. If you want to take some of the nice girls out riding with you, we are only too pleased."
"Is that all?" Krebs said.
"Yes. Don't you love your mother, dear boy?"
"No." Krebs said...."I don't love anybody."
Rather than grasping that Harold has been left empty by his horrific experiences when he anwers truthfully, Mrs. Krebs cries. So, he tells her he did not mean what he has said, even acting the role of the child, "I know, Mummy,...I'll try and be a good boy for you." Sadly, Krebs recognizes that his mother is uncomprehending and unable to handle the truth, and he feels "sick and nauseated" in his terrible alienation within his own house.
Further, Krebs is completely disillusioned with life in general as a result of his terrible and frightening experiences:
[A] distaste for everything that had happened to him in the war set in because of the lies he had told.
He does not desire a woman because "they were too complicated." For they dwell in a world he no longer knows,
...they lived in such a complicated world of already defined alliances and shifting feuds that Krebs did not feel the energy or the courage to break into it.
Krebs feels alienated from the small town hierarchies, the who-knows-who and who-said-what of such a place, all of which now seem menial and insignificant. And, although he still has a desire for a female, he does not want to go through the social procedures necessary. If a girl would come to him and "not wanted to talk," Krebs would be content, but this cannot happen. So, dating is "not worth the trouble." Krebs reflects that he "had liked Germany better" where he has had anonymity. Now, he has been altered by war too much and cannot relate to his small town with its social structure and his family's desires for him that are in contrast to his own. So, he departs as a stranger would.
Krebs decides to leave home because he cannot keep his life there from becoming complicated. "He wanted his life to go smoothly." The terrible stress of wartime has made Krebs desire to shut off all complications of interpersonal relationships and other social contacts that remind him that he is different now, different and damaged psychologically in his disillusionment with life.