The story develops two primary conflicts, Harold's internal conflict and his external conflict with his mother. After Harold returns home from the war, he tries initially to resume his old life in his home town, but he soon finds that he longer fits in. He struggles to reconcile his feelings about the war with how others at home perceive the war to have been. He tries for a while to tell them what they want to hear, but he cannot continue in this. No one wants to hear what really happened to him, including his parents. He gives up and spends a great deal of time in his room; when he goes out, he becomes an observer of life in his town, not a participant.
The external conflict between Harold and his mother drives the story, motivating Harold to leave home. His mother has no understanding of what her son has experienced; she, as well as his father, expect Harold to pick up the pieces of his life, find a job, and settle down. She treats him as the boy he once was. Harold's mother finally pressures him beyond endurance, asking if he loves her. In anger and resentment, he says that he does not, which wounds her terribly. Seeing her pain, Harold lies to her, submits to praying with her, and then prepares to leave home behind once and for all. It is a place where he no longer belongs, and he chooses not to live a lie.