Originally published in the Contact Collection of Contemporary Writers in 1925, then reprinted in In Our Time that same year, “Soldier’s Home” is a classic early Ernest Hemingway story for at least three reasons. First, the author powerfully evokes the post– World War I malaise experienced by many returning American veterans—and even by their peers who saw no combat—and portrayed by many of Hemingway’s literary contemporaries, T. S. Eliot in The Waste Land, or Sherwood Anderson in Winesburg, Ohio, for instance. This sense of malaise is notably conveyed, too, in Hemingway’s Nick Adams stories. Second, it demonstrates Hemingway’s conscious attention to his craft—a craft influenced by Gertrude Stein during his Paris years—in terms of economical, tightly knit sentences. Third, Hemingway is clearly utilizing his “iceberg” technique in this story: Very little of Harold Krebs’s feelings and motivations appears clearly above the surface of the text; instead they remain submerged for the reader to fathom. Moreover, for those interested in biography, this story, as does the majority of Hemingway’s war fiction, follows the author’s experiences in intriguing ways.
The ironic title does clearly imply, however, that Harold’s wartime experiences lie murkily at the bottom of his inability to relate to his old home in Oklahoma, where he has returned later than other soldiers and has thus been deprived of the heroes’ welcome they enjoyed; the town has now grown somewhat bored with and cynical about the war. Harold is caught between not wishing to speak about his presumably horrific experiences—he has fought in five of the bloodiest battles of the war—and then wishing that he could find someone willing to listen and understand. He feels alienated from both the town and his parents, thinking to himself that he had felt more “at home” in Germany or France than he does now in his parents’ house.
Harold’s attitude toward women is another element in this story that was to become characteristic of Hemingway fiction and to engender much debate. Harold’s years as a U.S. Marine taught him that for much of the time he does not need women, and that when he feels a sexual urge, a woman will always be available. Now, at home, he characterizes himself as an observer of women, one who can appreciate their beauty but who lacks the energy or desire to engage in the conventional courtship rituals. Harold also expresses animosity toward both his parents, but especially his mother, whom the narrator portrays as the arbiter of the religious and middle-class values that suffocate him. At the end of the story, Harold vows to leave home for Kansas City just as Hemingway did. In the meantime, he goes to watch his sister, Helen, who adores him, in her game of indoor baseball. He knows that Helen, unlike his mother and the townspeople, will not make statements that force him to tell lies.
Baker, Carlos. Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story. New York: Scribner, 1969.
Beegel, Susan. Hemingway’s Neglected Short Fiction. Ann Arbor, Mich.: UMI Research Press, 1989.
Benson, Jackson J. The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1975.
Hemingway, Ernest. The First Forty-nine Stories. New York: Scribner, 1938. ———. In Our Time. New York: Scribner, 1925.
———. “Soldier’s Home.” In The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway: The Finca Vigía Edition. New York: Scribner, 1987.
Smith, Paul. New Essays on Hemingway’s Short Fiction. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998.