The main character in Hemingway's "Soldier's Home ," is Harold Krebs, recently returned home to a small mid-western town after fighting in Europe during WWI. Krebs is clearly suffering from what we now recognize as Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome--in WWI, the term was "shell shock." Throughout much of the...
The main character in Hemingway's "Soldier's Home," is Harold Krebs, recently returned home to a small mid-western town after fighting in Europe during WWI. Krebs is clearly suffering from what we now recognize as Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome--in WWI, the term was "shell shock." Throughout much of the story, Krebs's engagement with his family and society can be characterized as non-existent:
He did not want any consequences. He did not want any consequences ever again. He wanted to live alone without consequences.
Even though Krebs is living at home with his parents and sister, and he engages in some meaningless conversation with his younger sister at one point, his goal is to be left alone--to live without any "consequences." After having fought in some of WWI's most horrific battles--Belleau Wood, Soissons, St. Mihiel--Krebs is not a physical casualty but he is an emotional casualty of the war, and his inability to engage with people and his surroundings makes him an essentially static character throughout most of the narrative.
When his mother challenges him to resume his pre-war life, however, Krebs is forced to deal with his mother's well-meaning, conventional expectations that he get on with his life--get a job, marry, have children--as she puts it, "you're going to have to settle down to work, Harold." At this point, Krebs begins to move from static to dynamic character in that he is no longer, during this conversation with his mother, able to avoid "consequences," and has has to engage with his mother. In addition, Krebs's mother becomes the catalyst of his seemingly dynamic shift and, as a result, becomes important to the story's resolution.
After a painful scene in which Krebs's mother attempts to shame him into conventional behavior by reminding Krebs that he would make the change if he really loves his mother, she demands that he pray with her, to which Krebs replies that he cannot. With her conventional world view, Krebs's mother believes that Krebs chooses not to pray, so she prays for him. What she cannot understand--because she doesn't understand what Krebs has been through--is that Krebs can no longer pray. Krebs will not pray because praying is no longer a possibility for him. His failure to pray is a profound indication that his interaction--his dynamism--with his mother is more like a reaction to a stimulus than a shift from a static to a dynamic character.
Krebs resolves his problem with "consequences" not by agreeing to his mother's demand that he rejoin society but by deciding to
. . . go to Kansas City and get a job and she would feel all right about it.
In other word, Krebs will go through the motions of engaging with the world and meeting his mother's conventional expectations, but if we were to see Krebs in Kansas City, we would see a man forever avoiding "consequences."