Harold Krebs returns home from World War I to his small, conservative home town in Oklahoma. Since leaving home, Harold has served in the military, witnessed war's atrocities, and changed in any number of significant ways. By the time he finally gets back home, the war has been over for some time, and life has moved on without him:
By the time Krebs returned . . . the greeting of heroes was over. He came back much too late. The men from the town who had been drafted had all been welcomed elaborately on their return. There had been a great deal of hysteria. Now the reaction had set in. People seemed to think it was rather ridiculous for Krebs to be getting back so late, years after the war was over.
The young girls he remembered have grown up and formed relationships with other men. Harold no longer fits in and he lacks the energy or the desire to try. He finds that no one wants to talk about the war except as a glorious exercise in heroism. This is not the war Harold experienced first hand, but no one wants to hear his reality. When first arriving at home, Harold had tried to talk about his experiences, but he found himself lying about daring feats in order to hold his listeners' attention. After a while, he didn't talk about the war at all, and thus had no outlet for his feelings.
Complicating Harold's life is the fact that his parents treat him as the boy he was before going away. They have no insight into his feelings and no understanding of the ways in which he has changed. Finding himself in an impossible, stifling situation, Harold cannot stay in his parents' home, and he cannot stay in this small, insulated town. He decides to go to Kansas City where he can get lost in the crowd and simplify his life.