What happens in Soldier's Home?

In "Soldier's Home," U.S. Marine Howard Krebs returns home from World War I to find that his town hasn't changed. Howard's experiences have left a deep impression on him, however, and he has trouble relating to people who believe that war is glamorous. In the end, he leaves home.

  • Howard Krebs returns to Oklahoma after fighting in Europe. His parents and hometown haven't changed at all, and they all think of him as a hero who fought in a just, glorious war. They don't want to hear about the atrocities.

  • Angry and unable to connect with those around him, Howard lashes out at his mother and tells her he doesn't love her. He quickly apologizes, however, and they pray together.

  • Howard decides to leave Oklahoma and move to Kansas City, where he can get a job and lead an easy, normal life.

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Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The title of this story suggests a familiar American landmark and symbol: The soldier’s home, a place for retired military to live and relive their war experiences. In this tale, however, the soldier’s home is neither a haven for former soldiers nor an environment for reminiscing. It is the place to which Harold Krebs, a U.S. Marine who fought in World War I, returns to be alone and to face the lies that he and others utter about the war.

When Krebs returns to his hometown in Oklahoma, after having fought in various European arenas, he discovers that he has changed but that nothing in the town has changed. This dramatic difference between the returnee and those who stayed home sets up the basic conflict in the story: the dishonesty that is demanded for survival. It is demonstrated most clearly in the retelling of war stories, for the townspeople do not want to hear the truth about the atrocities of battle, preferring, instead, lies about the heroics of war. Krebs finds himself telling these lies because dishonesty is the path of least resistance, even though it causes a “nausea in regard to experience that is the result of untruth or exaggeration.”

Alienated from his family and the local people, Krebs spends his days aimlessly, sleeping late, reading, practicing the clarinet, and playing pool. He makes no effort to relate seriously with anyone, including women, because he does not want the complications or consequences of relationships. He is home, but it is no soldier’s home to which he has returned.

The climax of the story occurs during a conversation between Krebs and his mother. Initiating a discussion with her son about religion and a job—predictable maternal and midwestern topics—Mrs. Krebs leads Harold to tell still another lie. She asks him, “Don’t you love your mother, dear boy?” Harold responds with total honesty, “I don’t love anybody,” causing Mrs. Krebs to cry and revealing her inability and unwillingness to hear the truth. Nauseated by his next statement but believing that it is the only way to stop her crying, he lies and tells her that he did not mean what he said; he was merely angry at something. Mrs. Krebs reasserts her maternal role, reminding her son that she held him next to her heart when he was a tiny baby, reducing Krebs to the juvenile lie: “I know, Mummy. . . . I’ll try and be a good boy for you.” Mother and son then kneel together, and Mrs. Krebs prays for Harold.

After this emotional lie, Harold Krebs decides to leave the Oklahoma town, go to Kansas City for a job, and live his life simply and smoothly. The former Marine leaves his home.

Extended Summary

The “Soldier’s Home,” in the title of this 1925 story by Ernest Hemingway , is not a retirement home for aged veterans but the childhood home of a former marine, Harold Krebs, who fought in World War I and has now returned to his mother’s house in a small,...

(The entire section is 845 words.)