What do the characters' emotions and behavior reveal about their psychological states in "Soldier's Home"?

Harold Krebs's emotions and behavior in "Soldier's Home" reveal his struggles to assimilate back into a world of civility following his experiences in World War I, which no one wants to hear about.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The third person limited narration really allows readers access to the emotional state of Harold Krebs, who has recently returned home from fighting in World War I. Harold feels completely alienated by a world that he feels he no longer fits into. There are few people who could possibly understand...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

The third person limited narration really allows readers access to the emotional state of Harold Krebs, who has recently returned home from fighting in World War I. Harold feels completely alienated by a world that he feels he no longer fits into. There are few people who could possibly understand all that he's experienced and even fewer who are willing to really listen. In order to assimilate, Harold finds himself telling people what they want to hear instead of the truth, and this further disgusts him with his own character. He becomes determined to therefore tell no further lies by avoiding a sense of intimacy with anyone, which he extends to his own family.

Harold is trying to make sense of a world which no longer makes any sense; after all, he was sent to battle as an entire world waged war on itself. He needs time to simply process all he has seen, heard, and experienced; yet the world rushes him to move on and find success in civil life.

Harold's mother is concerned for her son yet fails to truly consider his emotional state, because of her own lack of experience. She tells him,

I know the temptations you must have been exposed to. I know how weak men are.

Although she's a desperate mother who longs for the happiness of her son, this statement is quite presumptuous. Not only does she have no idea what her son has been exposed to (it is noted that although Harold tries to talk to his mother, her attention span is short), but he is far from "weak" after fighting in and surviving several battles of the war. This adjective further insults and isolates the struggles of Harold, yet his mother cannot see this, because of her own desperate needs for him to find quick success and happiness.

Harold's sister Helen is too young to understand her brother's experience, and her actions show that she is the center of her own world. She idolizes her older brother and wants him to prove that he loves her by coming to watch her play ball. In her immaturity, she likely fails to see the personal struggles her brother grapples with. After the conflict with his mother, Harold decides to go support his sister, both showing his affection for her and symbolizing at least some hope for Harold's dismal emotional state.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Ernest Hemingway's short story "Soldier's Home" is about a returning World War I veteran who fought in some of the most important battles of the war. There are essentially only four characters represented in the story: Harold Krebs, his mother, father and sister. Krebs apparently is suffering ill effects from his experience in the war. He lacks motivation and claims that he wishes to avoid complications and for everything in his life to "go smoothly." His days are spent basically in an idle state, sleeping late, spending time at the library (trying to sort through books on the war to figure out what really happened to him) and shooting pool. He is unable to communicate his unease about what he went through in the war and tends to avoid interpersonal relationships. In today's terms it might be said that Krebs suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. His psychological state is one of a man who has experienced the horrors of war and is not capable of returning to his old life and normal existence. Two recent movies, The Hurt Locker and American Sniper, portray characters who would relate to what Krebs is feeling as he attempts to reintegrate into life in his small Oklahoma town.

Krebs's mother is also affected by her son's unease. She cannot understand why he won't simply carry on with his life as if the war never happened. She finally confronts him at the end of the story in an extremely uncomfortable scene in which Harold tells her that he doesn't love her and cannot pray with her. James R. Mellow, in his biography of Hemingway, suggests that Mrs. Krebs is modeled after Hemingway's own mother and that, along with being devoutly religious, was also a highly controlling figure in her children's lives. The fact that Krebs is no longer her little boy has caused her great dismay and she eventually breaks down crying in the face of his rejections.

Krebs's father is never physically present in the story, but his presence is felt. He is obviously a no-nonsense businessman who simply wants his son to get on with acquiring a job and being a productive member of society. His absence suggests that he may not be emotionally invested in his son's life and that the only thing that really matters to him is work.

Finally, the reader is introduced to Krebs's sister Helen, who appears in a seemingly unimportant scene in which she asks him if he is her "beau" and wants him to attend her indoor baseball game. She tells him that he doesn't love her unless he goes to her game. Krebs is initially apathetic and noncommittal in his conversation with his sister, but the discussion is later revealed to be important. In the story's last lines he says he will go to Helen's game, and this may be the first realization for Harold that he must get on with his life and that he may actually be capable of loving someone.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team