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“Soldier’s Home”: A Classic for Everyone

When I decided to take an introductory course in literature, I had no idea that I knew so little about the subject. Being a student with an interest in psychology, it seemed only natural that I would find the stories, “A Sorrowful Woman,” “Soldier’s Home,” and “Bartleby, the Scrivener” of particular interest. Each of these works contains the same deep meaning, although not readily apparent. All concern the psychology of self-isolation.

Although all three stories share a somewhat common theme, “A Sorrowful Woman” seemed to exhibit a more complex use of symbols. This requires a more experienced reader in order to grasp every hidden meaning. Since my experience studying good literature is currently limited, this lessened my reading enjoyment. I found Ernest Hemingway’s classic “Soldier’s Home” to be the most interesting. Not only did I find the story fascinating, but it also contained just the right combination of simple and complex use of symbolism to make it an excellent learning experience. Hemingway’s style, along with his integration of plot, characters, and setting, can easily be recognized and identified with by amateurs such as I. His combination of third person omniscience and objective point of views gives the novice reader necessary details while allowing them to read between the lines.

Hemingway’s style sets a tone of loneliness and isolation by using short, stark sentences such as, “He did not want to leave Germany. He did not want to come home. Still, he had come home. He sat on the front porch”. The author also creates an ironic twist when he uses a setting that typically provides a warm and protective environment, in direct contrast to Krebs’ feelings of isolation. Hemingway’s use of more obvious symbols helps the amateur reader to recognize and appreciate the more subtle qualities of good literature. For instance, when Krebs’ sister Helen calls him Hare, the reader instinctively feels that Krebs is hiding like a scared rabbit from the expectations and attentions of his family and society.

In addition to his unique style, Hemingway utilizes a chronologically arranged plot, which is easier for an amateur critic to follow. He begins his story with an exposition that gives the reader a slight insight to the protagonist’s religious background and hints at his upbringing. It also includes a brief explanation of Krebs’ experience in WWI. The plot then continues through the months following the young soldier’s return from the war, describing his internal struggle with his war experiences and his return to a society and family that cannot understand his self-isolation.

The reader is exposed to the rising action of the plot as he/she is introduced to the secondary characters of the story. Like Krebs, Hemingway gives the mother a round character that reveals some thoughts and emotions as she caters to her son, timidly trying to persuade him to get on with his life. She seems to be the only link to the real world around him and she acts as a messenger for Krebs’ father who never actually makes an appearance in the story. This clever portrayal of the father’s extremely flat character emphasizes the fact that, “His father was noncommittal”. Krebs’ younger sister, Helen, is another flat character whose purpose is to expose Krebs’ vulnerable side. The lonely soldier’s attempts at socializing add to his feeling of isolation as he constantly seeks out entertainment that is typically nonsocial. For instance, the narrator tells us that Krebs spends his time, “ . . . walk[ing] downtown to the library to get a book, eating lunch at home, reading on the front porch . . .”. In fact, the only activities Krebs likes that may subject him to the presence of others is to play pool.

Throughout the story Krebs’ mother tries to draw him out of his shell, which leads the reader to the turning point when she confronts him about getting on with his life. The climax occurs when Krebs is talking with his mother. She asks him if he loves her and he says no, “ I don’t love anybody”. The reader is left with a sense of heartbreak. This sense of sadness is followed by the falling action of the plot when Hemingway reveals Krebs’ decision to leave home. Finally, the reader is led to the conclusion (the denouement) with the realization that Krebs internal conflict has not ended.

During every aspect of the story, Hemingway keeps the reader involved emotionally with his expertly organized plot, subtle (yet recognizable) use of symbols, and his use of characters that any reader can identify with. Not only is “A Soldier’s Home” a pleasant reading experience, it also provides a bit of challenge to the less seasoned reader of literature. Hemingway’s unique use of all these elements creates a more enjoyable reading experience than does “A Sorrowful Woman”.

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