What does the photograph of Krebs, the corporal, and the German girls reveal?

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The photo of Krebs with the corporal and the German girls is empty, like the college photo. The picture is evidence of a time when Krebs (or someone who looked a lot like him) was in Germany but he reflects that it doesn’t really matter anymore.

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The photograph is an interesting detail. It’s the second photograph mentioned at the beginning of the story: the first is the photo of Krebs in college with his fraternity brothers, all with the same collar. The photo from Germany, of Krebs and the corporal with the two “not beautiful” German girls, has a similar empty feeling. Like the college photo, the photo from Germany seems to refer to a kind of alternate reality that is remote and meaningless to Krebs now. The photo refers to a specific moment, at a particular place, but the evidence the photo provides of Kreb’s time in Germany is ultimately irrelevant. It’s true that the photo is described in terms that highlight its lack of romantic appeal; even though the photo is touristy, Krebs was no tourist. One way of thinking about the photo is that it captures something of the longing Krebs has to get away from his home town. That is, in the same way Krebs’s home with his parents really is no home at all, the photo of Krebs in Germany shows an allegedly happy time that, in fact, was not happy at all. The thing Krebs is trying to “get away” from is himself, of course, a self that stares back at him in these photos.

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Like many of the American boys who went off to fight in World War I, Harold Krebs most certainly looked at the experience as an adventure with possibilities of romance and glory. These are the same hopes that another American literary character, Henry Fleming, in Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage, must have had when he went off to fight in the Civil War. What Krebs and Fleming found was not glory, but chaos, death, and trauma on the battlefield. Hemingway's short story is a rumination on the ultimate fallout of men returning from the devastating horrors they witnessed.

The photograph in question conclusively proves just how unromantic and inglorious the experience had been for Krebs. The picture shows Krebs disheveled with another soldier and two "German girls who are not beautiful." The photo is in direct contrast with an earlier one depicting Krebs with his fraternity brothers just before the war. They all look the same, "wearing exactly the same height and style collar."

The photo from Germany, however, does not feature Krebs and the corporal in stylish uniforms with beautiful girls. Rather, it is quite the opposite. Krebs and the corporal's uniforms are too big for them, and, in the ultimate dishonor, the Rhine River, the great symbol of German romantic myth, is not even framed in the photograph.

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Hemingway opens "Soldier's Home" with a description of a photo that Krebs has carried home from the war in Europe:

Krebs and the corporal look too big for their uniforms. The German girls are not beautiful. The Rhine does not show in the picture.

These three short, simple declarative sentences communicate a great deal about Krebs and his situation as a recently repatriated soldier. Instead of looking capable, masculine, and dashing in his uniform, Krebs looks uncomfortable and perhaps unfit. Instead of attracting beautiful European women, Krebs and the corporal have found the company of two ordinary looking German girls. Even the landscape surrounding him does nothing to add to the mystique of a soldier fighting in a foreign land. The Rhine is not in the frame, implying that he could be anywhere. Overall, the photograph communicates a very unromantic view of his war service and offers nothing special for which he could be admired by people at home.

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What does the photograph of Krebs, the corporal, and the German girls reveal The Soldier's Home?

In reading and interpreting this story, I would call attention to the style in which Hemingway writes it.  Notice the verbs in these 4 sentences that describe the picture:  “is,” “look,” “are,” and “does not show.” None of the verbs offer action, all are as laconic as the character.  Notice too the straightforward, simple construction of the sentences:  the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th sentences consist of subject, verb, and modifier, not even containing a direction object:  nothing happens in them to anything.  The first sentence is even weaker, beginning with the expletive “there is,” which postpones the meaning of the sentence, putting it in the subordinate clause “which shows….”  In short, while the sentence communicates the lack of meaning in Kreb’s life, his inability to find romance and sentimentality in the war (as, perhaps, his parents and his town would prefer), its style and structure reinforce the same—and this is the beauty and complexity of Hemingway’s writing.  It is also something he associated with manhood:  eschewing the sentimental in favor of seeing things “as they are” and telling about that simply, directly, with as few words as needed.

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What does the photograph of Krebs, the corporal, and the German girls reveal The Soldier's Home?

The picture reflects an aura of greyness and anonymity - "the German girls are not beautiful", and although the group was photographed on the Rhine, "the Rhine does not show in the picture".  It is symbolic of Krebs' experience in the war, for although he was at Belleau Wood and other famous engagements, he had just done "the one thing, the only thing for a man to do".  His experience was devoid of excitement and romance, nothing like what those at home believe it to have been.  In fact, Krebs reads with interest accounts "about all the engagements he was in" in histories, where he could "really...learn...about the war".

The colorless banality of the picture also reflects the feeling of numbed nothingness that envelops Krebs upon his homecoming.

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