Introduction Kingdom) versus the Central Powers (Germany and Austria-Hungary).



World War I was a
war that took place between 1914 and 1918, led by the Allied forces (Russian
Empire, French Republic and United Kingdom) versus the Central Powers (Germany
and Austria-Hungary). It was triggered by the assassination of Franz Ferdinand,
the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary. It was the first war that had
started in Europe, but spread to and has included countries from all over the
world. The conflict was the result of the sudden technological and industrial
advances, such as the arms industry. Along with these advances came the rise of
nationalism, which eventually led to great tragedies and millions of deaths,
both civilian and military. Everyone was affected by the events, regardless of
the level of participation, whether it be the soldiers on the front, or
frightened mothers at home with children, just waiting for a possible bomb to
drop on their house.

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Naturally, the
world of arts was also heavily impacted, and so, in regards to the rest of the
period, there was a different mentality and perspective when it comes to war
literature. A group of young authors who established themselves after the war
had ended called The Lost Generation came to the spotlight. The group consisted
of James Joyce, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fidzgerald, Gertrude Stein and many
others. They were lost in the excitement of the World War I, but were
eventually let down with its outcome. Ernest Hemingway was one of them.


Hemingway and war

Hemingway is
credited to have been the greatest American authors of the 20th century, with
attributed importance of his work in regards to understanding the problems of
war and soldiers’ difficulties. He was not only the most active author, but he
was one of few who had actually lived through warfare and had experienced the
traumas they later wrote about.

In his speech at
the centennial anniversary, Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. gives him
full credit for shaping our perspective of the war – “The way we write about war or even think about war was affected
fundamentally by Hemingway.” (Henry Louis Gates).


After turning 18
in 1918, Hemingway applied to be a soldier, but was rejected because of his
problems with vision, causing him to fail the vision test. Nonetheless, he
responded to a Red Cross recruitment and joined the war as an ambulance driver,
where he received the Italian Silver Medal of Bravery for assisting Italian
soldiers to safety despite being severely wounded in fire. Hemingway, young as
he was, believed he was immortal:

“When you go to war as a
boy you have a great illusion of immortality. Other people get killed; not
you…Then when you are badly wounded the first time you lose that illusion and
you know it can happen to you. After being severely wounded two weeks before my
nineteenth birthday, I had a bad time until I figured out that nothing could
happen to me that had not happened to all men before me. Whatever I had to do
men had always done. If they had done it then I could do it too and the best
thing was not to worry about it.” (Hemingway)Soldier’s Home


“Soldier’s Home” is a short story he wrote a few years after returning
home from Italy and it has a sort of autobiographical context mixed in with the
fiction. “Yet another straightforward
literary incarnation of Hemingway himself.” (Ruben De Baerdemaeke, 56).
Thanks to its autobiographical content, it depicts the perfect picture of the
feelings soldiers have to cope with after experiencing the horrors of war.

“Hemingway’s great war
work deals with aftermath. It deals with what happens to the soul in war and
how people deal with that afterward. The problem that Hemingway set for himself
in stories like ‘Soldier’s Home’ is the difficulty of telling the truth about
what one has been through. He knew about his own difficulty in doing that.”
(Tobias Wolff at
the Hemingway centennial celebration)


The story tells
the tale of our protagonist Harold Krebs, a young man who joins the Marines and
goes from college in Kansas to the battle in Germany. Through Harold’s
character, Hemingway depicted his own sentiments towards the experiences he had
lived through and the difficulties in regards of surviving its aftermath. The
story takes place after Harold’s return home, where he realizes how empty he
feels and how there is no purpose in his life anymore after leaving combat.
Just like the author, the protagonist lives with his parents, who can’t imagine
what their son went through. He cannot speak to them because they would never
understand, nor does he know how to express himself well enough to help them

“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,
86). The stories he wants to tell are not interesting to anyone and even if
someone starts listening, they quickly lose interest. The parallel is drawn
here – Hemingway faced the similar problem with his return home, the things he
wanted to say, he couldn’t, as no one could understand. “For a time though, Hemingway questioned his role as a war hero, and
when asked to tell of his experiences he often exaggerated to satisfy his


From the sole
beginning of the story, we see a modernistic disillusion that is present
through the whole story. Hemingway starts the narration with a disappointing
tone. He is looking at a picture of Krebs and a fellow corporal with two German
girls on the river Rhine. He explains that the girls on the photo are not
beautiful and that the river Rhine is does not even show. The disillusionment
continues as he realizes everyone was already over the celebration of soldiers’
return home and that he is too late. “He
came back much too late. The men from the town who had been drafted had all
been welcomed elaborately on their return. There had been a great deal of hysteria.
Now the reaction had set in.” (Hemingway, 86)


Being so young,
Harold was defined by the action he had lived through during the war. He is a
soldier and a soldier only, nothing more, nothing less. After returning home,
he feels lost, without value. Looking back at “the times so long back when he had done the one thing, the only thing
for a man to do, easily and naturally,” (Hemingway, 87) makes him
depressive, as since his return, there is nothing he can do. He spends his days
sleeping late, reading until bored and then going to the pool.

The problem is he
is not feeling anything anymore, he is numb. Harold came as a different person;
the years he spent in Germany have changed him. He does not have any interests
beside war, he does not want a girl, and he does not want to work. The only
ones who are interested in him and see him as a hero are his sisters and his
mother. However, his numbness comes to surface during the dialogues with his
sister Helen and his mother at breakfast. Helen is really enthusiastic when
asking him if he’ll come to her baseball game, but he only answers with short
answers, as if he didn’t care.

“Do you love me?”

“Uh, huh.”

“Will you love me always?”


“Will you come over and watch
me play indoor?”

“Maybe.” (Hemingway, 91)

Next comes the the
dialogue with the mother, who somewhat realizes what is happening with him and
wants only the best.  The bluntness and
anger of his character reaches the peek in this dialogue when Harold tells his
mother he does not love her, that he does not love anyone. Our protagonist
Harold is a sort of an antihero in this story. His unpleasant demeanour is to
be looked down upon, yet we still love him and cheer for him to find happiness.
After his mother starts crying, he apologizes and tells he did not mean it,
that he was just angry. However, the fact that Hemingway writes he was nauseous
after telling that implies he was in fact lying, because he got nauseous every
time he lied.


After being
injured, Hemingway had spent six months recovering in a Milan hospital, where
he met a Red Cross nurse Agnes von Kurowsky. He was supposed to marry Agnes,
but soon enough he received her letter in which she states she engaged with an
Italian officer. This event had a devastating effect on his love life and perspective
on females. Eventually, that inspired him to write his most famous work “A Farewell to Arms.” He continued
having relationships, however, he would leave each woman before she would have
a chance to do so to him (he had 4 wives). That perspective can be also seen in
the lines describing Harold’s view:

“He liked the girls that were
walking along the other side of the street. He liked the look of them much
better than the French girls or the German girls. But the world they were in
was not the world he was in. He would like to have one of them. But it was not
worth it. They were such a nice pattern. He liked the pattern. It was exciting.
But he would not go through all the talking. He did not want one badly enough.
He liked to look at them all, though. It was not worth it.” (Hemingway, 89)


Harold saw each
girl the same as the other one, whether it be a French, German or Kansas girl.
The repetition of the word “pattern” and the line “It’s not worth it” tells us
about the seriousness of his attitude, that he really means it. He is not just
trying to find an excuse for not approaching them. He was taught in the army
how to live without a girl, but also that military men do not need to put in a
lot of work for women as they love soldiers and some girl will appear by

“Besides he did not really
need a girl. The army had taught him that. It was all right to pose as though
you had to have a girl. Nearly everybody did that. But it wasn’t true. You did
not need a girl. That was the funny thing.” (Hemingway, 88)




He is known for
the “iceberg structure” of writing. “Indeed,
while Hemingway’s “iceberg technique” inevitably created thematic complexity by
suggesting far more than it states, the surfaces of his prose have been justly
celebrated for their crystalline clarity and structural simplicity.” (Cohen,
161) Hemingway himself said he is a minimalistic writer when it comes to syntax
and can write a whole story with only 6 words. The reason why it is possible is
his ability to imply things. He wants the reader to feel the point and
experience the story, not to simply read the plot. The author focuses on vague
dialogues and small plot details as the main source of information, leaving it
to the reader’s imagination to understand his implications. The anticlimactic
ending perfectly demonstrates that point. After the fight with his mother comes
the prayer and ends with mentioning a normal baseball game, giving the ending a
purpose of demonstrating Harold’s flat character, but also implying that he
finds a job and leads a normal life eventually.

The title of the
story, “Soldier’s Home” can have two meanings;
the first one describes the home where he lives and the situation after his
arrival. The second meaning is the “soldier is home”, describing the arrival of
the soldier, putting the emphasis on the fact that the soldier is the one who
returned home and not the student that went into war because that person does
not exist anymore, just like pre-war Hemingway ceased to exist.




In conclusion, war
had obviously had a huge effect on Hemingway. He comes to the realization of
his own mortality, and everyone else’s too. Death is inevitable and it is the
only certain thing to happen to everyone, sooner or later. That is why he tried
to make people understand the troubles soldiers are going through, so somebody
could help them and cure the depression he too faced with, that eventually was
the cause of him taking his own life.