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Soldiers Home Essay Research Paper He knew

Soldier`s Home Essay, Research Paper He knew he could never get through it all again. "Soldier’s Home" "I don’t want to go through that hell again." The Sun Also Rises In

Soldier`s Home Essay, Research Paper

He knew he could never get through it all again. "Soldier’s Home"

"I don’t want to go through that hell again." The Sun Also Rises In

the works of Ernest Hemingway, that which is excluded is often as significant as

that which is included; a hint is often as important and thought-provoking as an

explicit statement. This is why we read and reread him. "Soldier’s

Home"is a prime example of this art of echo and indirection. Harold Krebs,

the protagonist of "Soldier’s Home," is a young veteran portrayed as

suffering from an inability to readjust to society–Paul Smith has summarized

previous critics on the subject of how Krebs suffers from returning to the

familial, social, and religious"home"(71). Moreover, as Robert Paul

Lamb notes, the story is also about "a conflicted mother-son

relationship"(29). Krebs’ small-town mother cannot comprehend her son’s

struggles and sufferings caused by the war. She devotes herself to her religion

and never questions her own values; she manipulates her son. She is one of the

Hemingway "bitch mothers" who also appear in "The Doctor and the

Doctor’s Wife" and "Now I Lay Me." Her sermons to her son lack

any power to heal his spiritual wounds. She has determined that Krebs should

live in God’s "Kingdom," find a job, and get married like a normal

local boy (SS 151). Although Hemingway locates the story in Oklahoma and

excludes it from the Nick Adams group, the husband and wife relationship

observed in"Soldier’s Home"is also similar to those in "The

Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife" and "Now I Lay Me," revealing the

mother’s dominance of a troubled marriage. Krebs’ noncommittal father is

obviously dominated by his wife; she makes the decisions. Her advocacy of

marriage for Krebs is ironic: not yet recovered from his various psychic wounds

and trapped by the sick marriage of his parents, marriage is the very commitment

he must avoid. Furthermore, a careful reading of "Soldier’s Home"

reveals yet another story discernible beneath the main one. Krebs’ indifference

towards the girls in the town seems to reflect his disillusionment not only with

the war and his parents’ marriage, but also with another experience–Krebs’

breaking up with a lover: Now he would have liked a girl if she had come to him

and not wanted to talk. But here at home it was all too complicated. He knew he

could never get through it all again. (147-48) Here is a significant ambiguity:

"it all" may well connote the whole process of being and ceasing to be

a lover, and "again" suggests that Krebs has been through this process

before. Descriptions of Krebs’ lack of involvement with the local girls occupy

one fourth of the story. These descriptions converge around the word

"complicated," repeated four times in this context. The girls live in

"a complicated world" (148); "They were too complicated"

(148); "it [to talk to a girl] is too complicated" (149); and "He

had tried so to keep his life from being complicated"(152). The latter

quotation suggests that the most difficult problem is not the complicated realm

of the girls, but Krebs’ fear of the complexity that might result from any

approach he might make. Once he talks to a girl, he must get through a

complicated sexual encounter all over again. Conversations, for Krebs, make the

male/female sexual relationship complicated. His aversion to such relationships,

we are to infer, derives from previous experiences with women that have perhaps

reinforced his observations of his parents’ marriage. As many have noted (see

Smith 71-72), one of the photographs discussed in the story’s opening paragraphs

suggests an unsatisfactory experience with German girls. Krebs and another

corporal, both in poorly fitting uniforms, stand with two German girls Who are

"not beautiful"beside a Rhine that "does not show in the

picture"(145).[1] The picture suggests an irony: the American soldiers,

once enemies, date German girls with whom they share no common language. Because

the American soldiers do not have to talk, and because the German girls are

probably prostitutes, relationships between them are uncomplicated. Without any

need for conversation, the soldiers simply satisfy their lust on the

prostitutes’ bodies. Just as he emphasizes the German girls’ lack of beauty,

Hemingway also erases the Rhine to show the lack of romance in such

relationships. In "Soldier’s Home," he juxtaposes two worlds: the

simple one Krebs shared with the German girls, and the potentially complicated

realm of the hometown girls. "A Very Short Story," written between

June and July 1923, helps shed light on this aspect of the later "Soldier’s

Home," composed in April 1924. An equally bleak story, also a mixture of

Hemingway’s own experiences and fictitious material, "A Very, Short

Story" appeared first as the untitled Chapter Ten in the 1924 three

mountains press in our time, and was later titled and revised for inclusion in

the 1925 Scribner’s In Our Time. The crucial difference between the two versions

is that the name of the protagonist’s lover has been changed from Ag in the 1924

edition to Luz in the 1925 edition. It is well known that the love affair

between a wounded soldier and a nurse, as well as the miserable end of that

affair, are based on Hemingway’s own experience of being jilted by Agnes von

Kurowsky. However, the story’s conclusion, where the protagonist has a sexual

encounter with a sales girl in a taxicab and contracts gonorrhea, is considered

fictitious. As Robert Scholes and Scott Donaldson have observed, this conclusion

reflects Hemingway’s undisguised anger towards "Ag" and his own

self-pity. Taking some expressions and ideas directly from Agnes’ "Dear

John" letter of 7 March 1919 (qtd. in Villard and Nagel 163-64), Hemingway

drew the raw materials for "A Very Short Story" from his own

experience. If "A Very Short Story" is one version of Hemingway’s

unhappy love affair with Agnes, "Soldier’s Home" may be another–more

sophisticated because its author’s bitterness is more sublimated. The

"it" in "never get through it all again" may fruitfully be

interpreted as Hemingway’s suffering after he received the letter from Agnes. He

describes Krebs’ self-protective attitude, his aversion to being trapped by

another love affair that may bring him new pain: "It was not worth it. Not

now when things were getting good again" (148). Krebs does not want to be

disturbed; it is good enough for him simply to "look at" girls on the

street (147,148). He is able to keep his mind peaceful by avoiding talking to

the girls. Although the first part of the story suggests that some of Krebs’

trauma has been caused by the war, a related and complementary inference is that

he may also be recovering from the shocks of a failed love affair. In The Sun

Also Rises, Brett Ashley speaks of her inner torment–"I don’t want to go

through that hell again" (SAR 26)–in language that echoes Krebs’. Brett

rebuffs Jake. Because of his impotence, Jake and Brett can never fully satisfy

each other. "That hell again" suggests both their unconsummated love

affair and their suffering from the hesitant and inconsequential encounters they

have already experienced. Both Krebs and Brett decline to repeat such

experiences. When we consider the intentionality behind Hemingway’s

intertextuality, we realize that both characters share a deep wound. In

"Soldier’s Home," Hemingway avoids any explicit description of what

happened to Krebs during the war, especially in the matter of the love affair.

Instead, Hemingway portrays Krebs’ postwar reaction to the town girls, and we

note his condition and behavior, and infer a cause. Both the physical distance

between Krebs and the girls and his role as onlooker give him a sense of

security. While Krebs remains in a safety zone "on the front porch,"

he is protected. The girls walk "on the other side of the street";

nothing can touch him (147-48). Like sophisticated Brett Ashley, these

small-town Oklahoma girls celebrate a new era with short skirts and short hair.

Krebs admires them, yet he protects himself from the danger of sexual

involvement as if he were still suffering from a previous affair. He has to

control himself. Only as an onlooker can he avoid the "complicated

world": But they [the girls] lived in such a complicated world of already

defined alliances and shifting feuds that Krebs did not feel the energy or

courage to break into it.(147) Ironically, Hemingway uses the terms

"alliances" and "feuds," words appropriate to conflicts

between nations and families, to describe the girls’ complicated world.

Moreover, he uses related terms to describe Krebs’ feelings towards that world:

"He did not want to get into the intrigue and the politics" (147). By

emphasizing discord and friction, such terms suggest a conflict already

experienced by Krebs, a conflict further revealed as follows: He did not want

any consequences. He did not want any consequences ever again. He wanted to live

along without consequences. Besides he did not really need a girl. (147) The

repetition of "consequences" sounds too portentous for the previous

problem to have been a merely casual love affair. The discontinuity between

Krebs’ prewar and postwar periods is obvious. Through the experience of battle,

he seems to have lost his belief in God and the Kingdom which his mother claims.

Krebs is isolated, having lost all feeling of belonging or togetherness. But he

is attracted by the girls’ "patterns" which represent their

identification with a group, an identification he once shared. Perhaps his is a

bitter and only half-realized nostalgia. Here is a veteran, a possibly

heartbroken young man, who keeps himself away from the complex world, stays on

the porches, and simply watches girls on the street. However, Krebs makes an

exception for his young sister Helen. She is accepted in his realm. She extracts

his pledge to be her "beau"(150). On a superficial level, she seems to

be just another girl attempting to pull him into a complex world; however, in

her innocence she intends no such thing. An incestuous relationship between

brother and sister is suggested in Hemingway’s later, posthumously published

work "The Last Good Country" and its related manuscripts (NAS 70-132).

But here, in "Soldier’s Home," there is no hint of incest. The

brother-sister relationship remains a simple form of love in "Soldier’s

Home."The young sister’s love for her brother is a mixture of respect and

innocent affection. Her regard and love have a healing effect on Krebs. Although

she is as talkative as her mother, Helen’s invitation is to a simple world.

Moreover, Krebs, who has yet to exchange a word with the girls in the town,

enjoys talking with his sister because there is no danger of being trapped in

the complex man-woman world. Krebs simply accepts her invitation, and goes to

the schoolyard to see her pitch, as proof of their mutual love. Thus,

"Soldier’s Home" is a sophisticated story of a variously wounded

veteran’s return home. While "A Very Short Story" is a relatively

explicit story of heartbreak, revealing biographical raw materials and the

author’s anger, "Soldier’s Home" is a more refined and distanced

treatment of Hemingway’s own experiences during and after the war. Later, these

same experiences, more refined and distanced still, will find expression in

perhaps the ultimate veteran’s story, "Big Two-Hearted River."

Donaldson, Scott. "’A Very Short Story’ As Therapy." Hemingway’s

Neglected Short Fiction: New Perspectives. Ed. Susan F. Beegel. Tuscaloosa: U of

Alabama P, 1992. 99-105. Hemingway, Ernest. in our time. Paris: three mountains

press, 1924. —–. In Our Time. New York: Scribner’s, 1925. —–. The Nick

Adams Stories. New York: Scribner’s, 1972. —–. The Short Stories of Ernest

Hemingway. 1938. New York: Collier, 1987. —–. The Sun Also Rises. 1926. New

York: Scribner’s, 1970. Kennedy, J. Gerald and Kirk Curnutt."Out of the

Picture: Mrs. Krebs, Mother Stein, and ‘Soldier’s Home.’" The Hemingway

Review 12.1 (Fall 1992): 1-11. Lamb, Robert Paul. "The Love Song of Harold

Krebs: Form, Argument, and Meaning in Hemingway’s ‘Soldier’s Home.’" The

Hemingway Review 14.2 (Spring 1995): 18-36. Scholes, Robert. Semiotics and

Interpretation. New Haven: Yale UP, 1981. Smith, Paul. A Reader’s Guide to the

Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1989. Villard, Henry

Serrano and James Nagel. Hemingway in Love and War. Boston: Northeastern UP,

1989. Donaldson, Scott. "’A Very Short Story’ As Therapy." Hemingway’s

Neglected Short Fiction: New Perspectives. Ed. Susan F. Beegel. Tuscaloosa: U of

Alabama P, 1992. 99-105. Hemingway, Ernest. in our time. Paris: three mountains

press, 1924. —–. In Our Time. New York: Scribner’s, 1925. —–. The Nick

Adams Stories. New York: Scribner’s, 1972. —–. The Short Stories of Ernest

Hemingway. 1938. New York: Collier, 1987. —–. The Sun Also Rises. 1926. New

York: Scribner’s, 1970. Kennedy, J. Gerald and Kirk Curnutt."Out of the

Picture: Mrs. Krebs, Mother Stein, and ‘Soldier’s Home.’" The Hemingway

Review 12.1 (Fall 1992): 1-11. Lamb, Robert Paul. "The Love Song of Harold

Krebs: Form, Argument, and Meaning in Hemingway’s ‘Soldier’s Home.’" The

Hemingway Review 14.2 (Spring 1995): 18-36. Scholes, Robert. Semiotics and

Interpretation. New Haven: Yale UP, 1981. Smith, Paul. A Reader’s Guide to the

Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1989. Villard, Henry

Serrano and James Nagel. Hemingway in Love and War. Boston: Northeastern UP,

1989.

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