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Krebs has been through a great ordeal in Europe during World War I. It has been a traumatic experience as well as a learning experience. He feels like an entirely different person, but he does not as yet understand who that other person might be. He has not been physically wounded, but he has been psychologically wounded, not only by what he has personally observed and experienced, but by all the horrors he has heard about. The war affected most of the population of Western Europe in one way or another. Krebs is very young. He was not prepared to be exposed to the terrible truths about human nature--about man's inhumanity to man. Perhaps he distrusts all men after having experienced what he has experienced.
Characteristically, Hemingway does not try to describe what Krebs has seen and done in Europe. The reader can only infer the past from the present. This story is a good example of Hemingway's well-known "iceberg principle."
If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing.
Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon
Hemingway understands what Krebs' experiences were like, but in accordance with his principle of "leaving things out," he leaves those events out of his story. He could have described Krebs's nightmares. A motion-picture adaptation of the story would almost certainly do exactly that. It would show a battlefield with flashing artillery booming and soldiers charging through barbed-wire entanglements, and then it would cut to Krebs waking up in bed with a look of terror on his face. Hemingway chose not to do anything like that, but the reader feels the horror of war through Krebs's psychological reaction to it.
"Soldier's Home" is very much like Hemingway's story "Big Two-Hearted River." That deceptively simple story is ostensibly about a young man on a solitary fishing trip. The reader comes to understand, without being explicitly told, that the protagonist has been through a psychological and emotional ordeal in the war and just wants to spend time alone, doing what he likes best, and letting his mind heal. Both "Soldier's Home" and "Big Two-Hearted River" are intriguing because of what they do not say.
Krebs only wants peace and quiet, rest and recuperation, R&R. His mood is not hard to understand. Like any man or woman who has been through a severe emotional ordeal, he wants to lead a simple, undemanding, uncomplicated, peaceful, quiet life until he feels ready to get involved with the real world again. He responds rather cruelly to his mother when she tries to interfere and get him to become his old self again.
"Don't you think it's about time?" His mother did not say this in a mean way. She seemed worried.
"I hadn't thought about it," Krebs said.
"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.
One of the things the war has done to Krebs--as it has done to many people of his so-called "lost generation"--is to make him lose his faith in God. How could God have allowed such things to happen? Krebs sounds very much like Meursault, the anti-hero of Albert Camus' novel The Stranger (1942). Krebs, however, the reader feels, will recover. Fortunately, he has not been maimed or gassed. He will go on to lead a conventional American life, find a girl, get married, have a family and a steady job. In time he may forget all his bad memories.
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