What is a symbol in "Soldier's Home"?

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There are several symbols in this story of the traumatized soldier Harold Krebs. He comes home from World War I to his small town in Oklahoma and does not find anyone who can understand him or what he has been through.

In the first paragraph, the photo of him with his fraternity brothers all wearing "exactly the same height and style collar" symbolizes that Krebs is an "everyman"—he is meant to represent or symbolize the experience of many, many soldiers of his age and social standing who went to fight in World War I and came home as the "lost generation." The idea put forth here is that he is not unique in his experience.

In the second paragraph—in which Krebs and his colonel look "too big" for their uniforms, the German girls aren't pretty, and there is no Rhine in the picture—the photo symbolizes how out of place he and others Americans like him were in Europe.

At the end of the story, Krebs going to watch his sister Helen play indoor baseball symbolizes his love for her. She had said earlier "If you loved me, you'd want to come over and watch me play indoor." Most of the time, Krebs wants to do next to nothing, so his willingness to rouse himself to see his sister play is important. He feels a connection to at least one other person, which offers a glimmer of hope for him.

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The title of Hemingway's story is symbolic. For, the title can be interpreted in two ways:

  1. as "[the] soldier is home" (soldier's as the contraction of soldier is)
  2. as [a] soldier's (possessive) home, meaning the retirement home for old, worn-out soldiers--an old-fashioned name for what is now a veterans' home.

Moreover, the place to which Krebs returns is actually both of these:  Krebs, the soldier, is home; and, Krebs, the soldier, exists as though he is in an old soldier's home, 

...he was sleeping late in bed, getting up to walk down to the library to get a book, eating lunch at home, reading on the front porch until he became bored and then walking down through the town to spend the hottest hours of the day in the cool dark of the pool room.

Krebs is also not very interested in women because "[T]hey were too complicated." He cannot bear thinking of the complications involved in dating a woman since "...the world they were in was not the world he was in." Like an old man, Krebs justs

....He liked to look at them all, though. It was not worth it.....He had tried so to keep his life from being complicated.

Krebs is dead inside. By establishing some routine, some order, Krebs can live--if he creates a "soldier's home," a place of order, simplicity, and routine with no anticipation of anything changing. But when his mother asks him to do more, Krebs realizes he cannot stay because he must, then, lie. "Well, that was all over now, anyway." The house is no longer a "soldier's home," a refuge from the world where Krebs can be detached; now, Krebs must leave.


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