What point of view is used in "Soldier's Home" by Ernest Hemingway?

Expert Answers

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

The detached third-person perspective used by Hemingway in "Soldier's Home" is entirely appropriate given the story's subject matter. What Hemingway wants to convey is the sense of detachment that Krebs feels from both ordinary life and the people he grew up with as the result of his traumatic experiences of life at the front.

Krebs's wartime service has alienated himself from humanity as a whole—and, in particular, that portion of humanity that resides in his hometown. Not only that, but Krebs has become alienated from himself. He no longer knows who he is and what he really wants out of life. This is where the limited third-person perspective comes into its own; just as Krebs doesn't know who he is anymore, neither does the narrator, and by extension, the reader. Krebs is a mystery to himself, to others, and to us as readers.

Given what we know about Krebs, it is imperative that Hemingway adopts the perspective he does. He wants to give us some idea as to what's going on inside Krebs's damaged mind, but not enough to be able to get a handle on him. Otherwise, we might be tempted to write off Krebs as just another damaged veteran and leave it at that. But that just wouldn't do for Hemingway. He doesn't just want to make a general point about the damaging effects of war; he wants to individualize the suffering and trauma of conflict, to emphasize how it affects people differently.

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

The three forms of point of view are first person, second person, and third person (of which first and third person are by far the most common). In first person the story is told from the perspective of a character within the story while in third person, the narrator exists outside of the events of the story. "Soldier's Home" was written in third person point of view.

Had this story been written in first person point of view, you would have expected this story to have been told by one of the characters within it: perhaps Krebs (returning from war), his mother, or his sister, and this person's perspectives, agendas, and personality would have shaped the story as it is told. Therein lies the great strength of first person voice: by transporting the reader into the mind of a character, it becomes the most subjective and personal of the narrative voices.

As for "Soldier's Home," this is a story written in a particularly unique form of third person perspective. Usually, third person is sub-divided into two kinds of narrative voices: third person limited and third person omniscient. In third person limited, the narrator is tied directly to the perspective of one character within the story (the Harry Potter books is an example of this form of narration—we aren't transported directly into Harry's head, as we would be in first person narration, but we tend to follow events from his perspective) whereas an omniscient narrator evokes far greater narrative distance, with its narrator able to speak about the thoughts and perspectives of all the characters within the story.

This particular story, however, feels like a hybrid between the two: Hemingway's narrator does seem to be tied to Krebs; it is only his internal life that the reader can access, and the perspectives of other characters can only be hinted at through dialogue and action (such as his mother's crying). However, the narration itself takes place at an extraordinary distance, uncommon to third person limited, with a detached objectivity that is more reminiscent of what you would find in third person omniscient. In that sense, this story eludes easy classification, as it incorporates aspects of both third person limited and third person omniscient without clearly fitting into either one.

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

This story, "Soldier's Home," is told from the third-person narrator point of view.  As a former journalist, Hemingway was well accustomed to this objective point of view.  Here, in this story he makes great use of the detached journalistic style to demonstrate the detachment of Krebs from his hometown, a detachment effected by the experience of World War I which places him in a different state of mind from his mother who still exists in the Victorian age:

'God has some work for every one to do,' his mother said. 'There can be no idle hands in His Kingdom.' 

'I'm not in His Kingdom," Krebs said.

Hemingway's objective style and clipped sentences suggest the holding in of Krebs's emotions that he knows his mother will not understand.  (The soldier may be home, but he is not in a soldier's home.)  There is a definite genreration gap.  Krebs can only comfort his mother by acting again like a child, calling her "Mummy." But,

It wasn't any good.  He couldn't tell her, he couldn't make her see it.

Hemingway's repetition of "he couldn't, he didn't want," demonstrates Krebs's efforts to remain detached.  He finally decides that he must leave the house.  Yet, interestingly,in the last paragraph of the story, there is some lack of objectivity: 

He had tried so to keep his life from being complicated.  Still, none of it had touched him.  He had felt sorry for his mother and she had made him lie.

To remain detached, then, Kregs decides that he must leave and go to Kansas City.  To return to the detached style, Hemingway writes that Krebs goes to the schoolyard to watch Helen play ball.  A return to the insignificant tells much that is significant.  Ironically, the objective narrator reveals a great deal about the man character, Harold Krebs.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial