How does the style reinforce the content of the story, "Soldier's Home"?

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mstultz72 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hemingway's style is that of a journalist and a soldier: plain, tough, intimate without sounding emotional, trustworthy, direct.  In a word, it is full of ethos, credibility.

Hemingway was distrustful of adjectives, false adornment of nouns.  He also rarely used dialogue tags.  He wanted his nouns and conversation to stand out.

His fiction establishes realistic feel of the character’s thought process.  In "Soldier's Home," which starts in medias res, we feel empathy for the speaker, a member of the lost generation.  But, it is empathy on our terms: because of his bare bones narration, he does not play upon our sympathies. Hemingway uses the following in the story: polysyndeton (lots of "and"), high frequency words, monosyllabic words, articles, 1st person pronouns, action verbs, active tense, simple sentences, short, choppy, compound sentences, , 1st Person (I –oriented), informal (causal), male (macho), ethos (credibility), inductive reasoning, elliptical style (what is not said) Observe the passage:
"Nothing was changed in the town except that the young girls had grown up. But 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. He liked to look at them, though. There were so many good-looking young girls. Most of them had their hair cut short. When he went away only little girls wore their hair like that or girls that were fast. They all wore sweaters and shirt waists with round Dutch collars. It was a pattern. He liked to look at them from the front porch as they walked on the other side of the street. He liked to watch them walking under the shade of the trees. He liked the round Dutch collars above their sweaters. He liked their silk stockings and flat shoes. He liked their bobbed hair and the way they walked.
Over 70% monosyllabic words.  Hardly any adjectives.  If used, only basic adjectives.  Simple or compound sentences only: no subordination.  Lots of pronouns. This is the way soldier's speak, especially ones home from war.  The are men of action, not words.  They realize their civilian audiences will not understand the horrors they've seen, and so they do not openly communicate.
scarletpimpernel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hemingway's "Soldier's Home" discusses what life after the war is like for a shellshocked WWI vet.  In today's society, we would describe Krebs as having PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).  He is bored with life after the war, has a difficult time demonstrating any type of affection for his family, and struggles with indecisiveness.  Hemingway's choice of style--stream-of-consciousness--is perfect for the story's content.  The reader is inside Krebs's mind and sees his perspective on his family, post-war country, girls, and his inner struggle to make sense of what he saw and did overseas.  Just as he is isolated in his mind, he is also isolated physically from his family. He wants his mother to leave him alone; he would like to talk to girls, but then again he does not want to be close to them.  He feels ambivalent about his future.  If Hemingway had chosen to write the story using a typical third person narrator or even standard first person, it would be very difficult for readers to come close to understanding why Krebs acts in such a manner (telling his mother that he doesn't love her, showing no interest in driving, etc.). Personally, I think the story--because of its style--is a masterpiece in showing what combat veterans struggle with internally when they return to their "homes" after combat.

My students often complain about the repetition in the story and get frustrated with Krebs's character, but when they put themselves in Krebs's position or even think about how repetitive their own thought process would be on paper, they gain a better understanding of why Hemingway uses the stream-of consciousness style for this work.


James Kelley eNotes educator| Certified Educator

That's a good question.

Ernest Hemingway's short story "Soldier's Home" is written in an often repetitive style that many people see as characteristic of the writer. The sentences tend to be short in length, fairly simple in grammar, and very concrete in their level of detail. See the final paragraph for an example of this repetition. Here many of the sentences begin in the same way: "He had tried...," "He had felt...," "He would go...," "He would not go...," "He would miss...," "He wanted...," and "He would go...". (As in most of Hemingway's writings, of course, the reader also finds sentences with more variety.)

Connecting style to content isn't always easy, but it's certainly worth considering. The repetition of "He would..." in that closing paragraph might underscore Krebs' determination to act. More generally, the very concrete observations of the narrator -- free of evaluation or judgement -- may reinforce the theme of isolation or detachment. Krebs is back in the house where he grew up, but he hasn't entirely come home and reconnected with the things and people around him.