Style and Technique
Ernest Hemingway’s understated, detached style is suited to this story of a soldier whose reaction to his environment is itself understatement and detachment. The author’s narrative technique, sentence structure, dialogue, lack of symbolism and imagery—all these strategies create a successful marriage between form and content in “Soldier’s Home.”
Told in the journalistic style of a third-person narrator, the story appears to be a simple, objective, disinterested report of Harold Krebs’s return from the war. The first paragraph sets up this expectation of objectivity when the narrator describes a photograph of Krebs and his fraternity brothers in college. What the reader notes, however, are the details that this journalistic narrator chooses to include. Stating, for example, that it was a Methodist college and that all the men in the picture were “wearing exactly the same height and style collar,” the narrator is pointing to the conformist mentality of prewar, midwestern America.
The sentence structure is also suited to the message of restraint, of the famous Hemingway code of “grace under pressure.” In both the narrator’s explanations and the dialogue itself, the clipped sentences imply a control, a sense of holding on and holding in. Thus, a series of sentences might use the same syntactical structure: “He did not want to get into the intrigue and the politics. He did not want to have to do any courting. He did not want to tell any more lies.” Brief, simple, and repetitious, this series of “he did not wants” catalogs the ways in which Harold Krebs intends to remain uninvolved, detached, and restrained.
Absent from “Soldier’s Home” is imagery that might add an inappropriate complexity to the story. This tale is about one man’s efforts to recover a simplicity he once knew; the style of the story, lean and unadorned, reinforces Krebs’s struggle to regain the honesty he had known in the war when he had felt “cool and clear inside himself . . . when he had done the one thing, the only thing for a man to do, easily and naturally.” Regarding words, sentences, and images in “Soldier’s Home,” less is definitely more.
Benson, Jackson J., ed. New Critical Approaches to the Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1990.
(The entire section is 545 words.)