Ernest Hemingway’s short story “Soldier’s Home” focuses on the setting of an average town somewhere in Oklahoma. It is the early 1920 and the protagonist, Harold Krebs, returns home from World War I almost two years after its end, and such a late arrival plays an essential role in his experience as a military veteran. The crucial part of the setting in the short story is associated with the fact that the town remains the same, with nothing spectacular taking place there while the protagonist himself changed. Such a juxtaposition between the setting and the character enables Krebs to reflect on the experiences that changed him. While the town in the Midwest is likely to remain the same for years to come, the protagonist of “Soldier’s Home” will never be the same after being exposed to the horrors and challenges of war.
As Krebs returns home, he isolates himself in his house for some time to reflect and get used to the calm town life. He begins to observe others from the “front porch” of his house (Hemingway The Short Stories 101). Looking out at other people, including young women of his town, the protagonist comes to realize that he wants to stay away from relationships with any of them, remaining detached from the rest of the world for as long as possible. For Krebs, the setting of his house becomes a safe place where he can hide from any confrontations, which is why he finds it secure and comforting, and there is no need to be someone else when he is at his house.
While Hemingway does not provide a detailed description of the physical house in the story, it is the source of conflict in the story. The concept of Kreb’s house being a safe place for him is ironic as readers later find out that he no longer considers it his home after returning from war. The house is a representation of many emotions and desires that Krebs rejects as a result of his experience as a returning veteran. By describing Kreb’s house as no longer being home for him paints a picture of many other soldiers who return from war and struggle to adjust to a peaceful life. Like many other soldiers, Krebs lacks the ambition and desire to do something. He struggles to clarify his experiences and often lies about them, which makes him unable to relate to other people around him: “At first Krebs, who had been at Belleau Wood, Soissons, the Champagne, St. Mihiel and in the Argonne did not want to talk about the war at all. Later he felt the need to talk, but no one wanted to hear about it. His town had heard too many atrocity stories to be thrilled by actualities” (Hemingway Hemingway on War 17). The struggle of Krebs to understand who he is as an individual is a symbolic representation of not one person but rather many returning soldiers. Therefore, the setting of “Soldier’s Home” is essential for helping readers better understand the inner world of the story’s protagonist and the internal conflict with which he struggles. His house is no longer a home, which means that the character himself no longer knows who he is as a person due to the devastating impact of war on his mental state.
Hemingway, Ernest. Hemingway on War. Scribner, 2003.
The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. Scribner, 2017.