How does Hemingway use imagery and the relationship between the speaker and the listener in the short story "Soldier's Home"?

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mercut1469 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hemingway uses contrasting images in the form of photographs in the opening of the short story "Soldier's Home." The first photo shows Krebs in a fraternity picture with a group of other young men. There is a uniformity in the picture as each man is wearing "exactly the same height and style collar." It is a group of men at the pinnacle of their youth and potential. The second photograph is of Krebs, another soldier and two German girls. This image seems to encapsulate Krebs's experience in the war. Hemingway writes,

There is a picture which shows him on the Rhine with two German girls and another corporal. Krebs and the corporal look too big for their uniforms. The German girls are not beautiful. The Rhine does not show in the picture.

This image is a far cry from the glorified fraternity boys of the first picture. In this photo there is a common, almost depressing feeling. Even though Krebs probably went off to war with hopes and dreams of spectacular battles and heroism, it isn't what this picture portrays. There is no heroism. The girls are probably prostitutes and the Rhine River, often a symbol in heroic German myths, is not visible.

When Krebs returns from the war he is at first reluctant to talk about it, but later, when he is ready, no one will listen. In fact, all of Krebs's conversations in the story seem meaningless and nothing is really ever communicated. When Krebs tries to tell his mother about the war, "her attention always wandered." Likewise, his father seems to not care at all. His primary interest is that Krebs get a job and become a productive member of society. Even his conversation with his sister Helen is circular in nature with nothing decided. The final conversation with his mother is the best example of a lack of communication between speaker and listener. She tries to coax Krebs out of his lethargy by offering the family car for him to use. Krebs is noncommittal and the mother basically breaks down, asking him if he loves her and then praying over him. She is not able to understand the tremendous sense of despair which seems to pervade Krebs's life as he simply wants to live a life without "consequences."