(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

In Our Time has one central character, Nick Adams. Thus it is inevitable that the book is experienced by many readers as a bildungsroman, the tale of the growth, development, and maturation of a young man — even if a number of the "chapters" and stories are not directly concerned with Nick's experience. However, examined carefully, all of the stories and vignettes speak to Nick's process of growing up. Consider, for example, the instance of Krebs, a character who appears only in "Soldier's Home." He is from a background and family similar to Nick's, he feels much the same tension in his family relationships — especially with his mother — and he, too, goes off to the war. The fact that Krebs deals with his experience in a radically different way from Nick — Krebs rejects complications and "consequences" while Nick embraces complexity and accepts responsibility — sheds important light on the kinds of choices Nick must make as he grows up.

The list of minor characters is extensive; few off them receive much development (in a novelistic sense), for most of them exist as quickly sketched figures in very short stories, and many of them exist primarily to forward the action of the bildungsroman, to illuminate Nick's process of growing up, or to serve as exemplary or anti-exemplary models of behavior and values. The disciplined British officer of "On the Quai at Smyrna," who does his duty well in spite of the horror and chaos that...

(The entire section is 584 words.)