We know that Krebs joined the army after first attending a methodist college in Kansas, where he had joined a fraternity. Perhaps the fraternal brotherhood prompted him to join another all-male organization, and he spent the final year of the war and part of the next in uniform. Krebs fought in many of World War I's fiercest battles.
- At Belleau Wood, American troops fought off repeated German attacks for nearly three weeks (June 1918). American attacks were also repulsed repeatedly, and hand-to-hand combat was common. In the end, more than 10,000 Germans were killed by the Allied forces.
- The Battle of Soissons (July 1918) was one of the bloodiest in history. Nearly 300,000 men were killed, wounded or captured during the five days of fighting.
- The 4th Battle of Champagne, near Paris (July-August 1918), was another bloody affair, with nearly 125,000 Allied casualties. The Germans suffered slight heavier losses.
- The Battle of St. Mihiel was an all-American offensive of a smaller scale under the command of Gen. John Pershing. Pershing had hoped to capture the city of Metz, but nevertheless forced the Germans to abandon their position. Total losses were only about 7,000 for each side.
- The Battle of the Argonne Forest (September-November 1981) was a costly American victory in which the Allied losses were nearly double (190,000) that of the Germans. The final Allied offensive of the war, it also was the bloodiest battle in American history.
After seeing action in all of these bloody battles, it is no wonder Krebs had trouble adjusting to life at home again. By returning home long after most of the soldiers, Krebs felt none of the welcoming celebrations or the camaraderie to be experienced with his brother soldiers.
The academic book-length study by Ann Douglass, called Terrible Honesty: Mongrel Manhattan in the 1920s, has a very short but compelling discussion of Ernest Hemingway's short story "Soldier's Home." She discusses the story in relation to the First World War and to Victorian ideals (making points similar to what the previous posters have said) as well as in relation to a middle-class, mother-centered culture in the United States in the early decades of the twentieth century. Douglass' work isn't exactly history -- it's probably more accurately called cultural studies -- but it's certainly worth a look.
The time was World War I. America joined the War effort in 1916. Krebs would have been one of them. The amount of men deployed to War meant that the job industry in America was ripe for women in a depleted and growing industrial boom. Kreb's society must have been psychologically shocked at the prospect of this war because this was a completely new experience for American society.
Kreb's society, at the dawn of 19th century, still had a societal tendency to stick to the christian, traditional, Victorian-based values that permeated our habits such as marriage, family, church, and God.
Yet, all this became questioned at the onset of industralism, the boom in immigration, and the beginning of Kreb's "Great War". Enter the conflict. The early 20th century value system was challenged by a sophisticated new industrial and economic influx that made people more attached to materialistic and financial views of life.
When Krebs returned, this was the scenario that he found. He had just come from tasting a radically different culture at war, saw the technology and productivity of industralism, and as he came back, he could not understand how the novelty of this war had still not synched with the small town people he returned to.
Oklahoma proved to be one of those places that remained in suspended animation, and rid of change. Arguably, Krebs may have felt like he went back in time, and that his absence made no consequence in an inconsequencial town. Perhaps the post-war American town chose to stick to the values of the past century, and chose not to join in the social change that was taking place. For this reason, poor Krebs had no choice but to get away. It must have been a nerve-wrecking experience for him and any other soldier in the same situation.
Here are some elements that you should include in your paper.
1. Shellshock--the previous post mentions this (post traumatic stress disorder). The veterans of World War I spent long periods of time fighting in trenches and in unbelievably horrible conditions. They were then expected to return to the States which was in a state of prosperity and normalcy and go back to college, find civilian jobs, or settle down. As you see from Krebs' thought process, his shellshock makes it impossible for him not only to return to the innocent college student that he was before the war but also to care about his family and life. Returning veterans from today's war have experienced many of the same problems but are encouraged to talk about those problems much more than Krebs' generation would have been.
2. I would certainly research the specific places from World War I that Krebs thinks about in the story--Belleau Wood, Soissons, the Champagne, St. Mihiel, and the Argonne. This will give you a better understanding of why Krebs acts how he does and what he might have experienced to make him seem so callous toward his family.
3. One last point about the story--you might want to devote a paragraph to the story's title. What does Hemingway mean by his title? Is he referring to a soldier's homecoming? Does the title mean what it is like in the house of a veteran? Or, could it refer to the homes created for soldiers' recuperation or rehabilitation? Hemingway's use of the apostrophe is ambiguous because it could simply be a possessive apostrophe, or it could be a contraction for "soldier is." If you complete a little historical research on World War I vets, it might help you address the title more accurately.
The time frame which you are discussing occurred during World War I. It was a short war in relation to all the other wars thereafter. The German high command is aggressive and plans to invade other countries. Germany recognized that Britain was dependent on the water ways to obtain many of their resources. Germany launched submarine attacks on British ships. The death toll rose and the United States saw the need to enter the war in order to prevent Britain from losing to Germany. Britain was also considered to be one of our allies. America launched an invasive action through France. The war ended in 1918.
For people like the solider in the story, it left a void in them that could not be filled. Many soldiers were also left with feelings of the inability to fit back into where they had come from. Nothing was ever the same again. It also was the first time that mental health needs became an important issue. Most the men who had gone off to war were stable people living normal lives. In the past it was believed that only crazy people had mental problem, but post traumatic stress syndrome was evident in the men who returned from war. The mental health system had to re-look at mental illness as they tried to help the soldiers to readjust.