Who is the antagonist in "Soldier's Home"?

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The protagonist and antagonist of a novel are the opposing forces that drive the plot along. The protagonist is the main character, typically the "hero" of the story, as the plot is centered around them. However, they don't have to be a morally upright or heroic person; many novels deal with bad characters receiving their comeuppance through the events of the story. Harold Krebs, a man recovering from the trauma of war, is the protagonist.

The main force which prevents him from achieving his goals—such as reintegrating into society, having relationships, and living a peaceful, normal life—is his Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or "shell shock," as it's referred to in the novel and the language of the day. This force acts to keep him from achieving his goals and being happy—which is the definition of antagonist, since it doesn't need to be a person.

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The antagonist of the story is Krebs's mother, who comes to represent everything that her son has rejected. That's not to say that she's a particularly wicked or unpleasant character, as many antagonists are. It's simply that in her desire to get her shell-shocked son to move on with his life, she's ranging herself against him.

The truth, however, is that Krebs can't move on, even if he wanted to. As well as being traumatized by his experiences of war, he no longer shares the same values as his mother. This is graphically illustrated by his inability to join with her in prayer. He no longer believes in God, just as he no longer believes in his mother. Incapable of giving love or receiving it, Krebs is unavoidably antagonistic towards his mother, despite the fact that she remains a generally sympathetic character.

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The protagonist is the main character of a literary work whose conflict sets the plot in motion. The antagonist is the character or force which struggles against or blocks the protagonist. In Hemingway's short story "Soldier's Home" the main character and protagonist is Harold Krebs. Krebs has recently returned from service as a Marine fighting in World War I. Judging by what the third person narrator tells the reader it could be said that Krebs suffers from what was then called "shell shock" and is now diagnosed as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The narrator admits that during the war, Krebs "had been badly, sickeningly frightened." Back home, Krebs is depressed and somewhat anti-social. His idea is to avoid complications, consequences and for "life to go smoothly." For a time he is able to do this. Eventually, however, the antagonist, in the form of his parents, especially his father who never actually appears in the story, look to force Krebs out of his apathy by insisting he go out into the world and get a job and maybe a girlfriend. His mother tells him,

"You know we love you and I want to tell you for your own good how matters stand. Your father does not want to hamper your freedom. He thinks you should be allowed to drive the car. If you want to take some of the nice girls out riding with you, we are only too pleased. We want you to enjoy yourself. But you are going to have to settle down to work, Harold. Your father doesn't care what you start in at. All work is honorable as he says. But you've got to make a start at something."

Krebs initially rebels at his mother's suggestions but she soon shames him, crying when he claims he doesn't love her. At the end of the story he concedes that he must go to Kansas City to find a job and get on with his life. Although he would rather continue a life without consequences he must heed his parents' wishes.

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