In "The Soldier's Home," what is the conlict?
The central conflict of Hemingway's story "Soldier's Home" is the problem of Krebs's re-entry into his old life after what he experienced in World War I. While Krebs desires to speak with someone about his experiences during the war, he finds that he is too late. Many of the other soldiers have already returned to his home in Oklahoma. So, to get anyone to listen, Krebs finds that he must lie. But, because he lies, Krebs acquires a distaste for all that he has experienced. It is only when he runs into another man who has also been a soldier that Krebs feels comfortable, and they speak honestly with one another.
After having been gone for years, Krebs finds that he cannot relate to most people. Therefore, he does not want to enter into any kind of relationship. When he goes to town, he finds that the young women do not appeal to him. "He did not want to get into the intrigue and the politics. . . . He did not want to tell any more lies. It wasn't worth it." Nor does he want "any consequences."
After Krebs has been at home for a while, his mother comes to his room and talks with him about his father's wishes and God's plan for him. She says, "There can be no idle hands in His Kingdom." Krebs irreverently replies, "I'm not in His Kingdom." But, his mother insists that everyone is in God's Kingdom and that he should find work. She asks her son, "Don't you love your mother, dear boy?" and Krebs replies, "I don't love anybody." This response hurts the mother, who cries with her head in her hands. So, to satisfy his simplistic mother, who is confused by his thinking, Krebs speaks to her in a childish voice. "I know, Mummy. . . . I'll try and be a good boy for you." Appeased, his mother asks him to kneel and pray with him, but he says he cannot pray. His mother tells her son that she will pray for him. After she finishes her prayer, Krebs kisses his mother and leaves the house.
Krebs realizes that he cannot resolve his inner and external conflicts because his life at home has become too complicated. He regrets that he has hurt his mother, but he has already lied several times to her and others, and it bothers him to be false. Krebs wants his life "to go smoothly," and although it began to do so as he avoided relationships with others, now the easiness is gone because of his parents' having made demands upon him. So, Krebs decides to move to Kansas City, but before he leaves, he goes to the schoolyard to watch his innocent little sister, Helen, play indoor baseball. For Krebs knows that he "can't go home again."
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.
Harold Krebs is a young man who is unable to reintegrate into small town Oklahoma society after his experience as a soldier who served in Europe in World War I. He is out of step from the moment of his return; his homecoming had been delayed, and so he did not receive the heroes' welcome of his peers. At first, he does not want to speak about his war experiences when others are doing so, and by the time he is ready to do so, the people that surround him have moved on and aren't interested in listening.
Krebs is also in conflict with himself. He wants girls, and yet he doesn't—he feels they are not worth the effort or the "consequences" of having one. He is restless and bored, yet unable to look for something to which he could commit himself. He loves his mother and yet he doesn't, as he tells her.
Krebs's psyche has been damaged by his war service. He doesn't understand himself and he is not understood by the people in his life; he has become emotionally isolated and is unable to help himself, a condition Hemingway understood and sought to explore through "Soldier's Home."