Blog post: In Our Time, Soldier’s Home

“But here at home it was all too complicated.  He knew he could never get through it all again.  It was not worth the trouble.  That was the thing about French girls and German girls.  There was not all this talking.  You couldn’t talk much and you did not need to talk.  It was simple and you were friends.”  -Page 72

Throughout Soldier’s Home there is a sense of disconnection for Krebs.  There was no celebration for him when he returned from the war late.  He feels a sort of half-interest in the girls at home.  He has no job, sleeps late into the day, busies himself with the mundane activities of one who feels they have no place, and is unable to even pray with his mother.  It feels as though the war has changed him but not scarring him like many would think.  Instead it feels as though he has left part of him back in Europe, his heart and sense of belonging, with the countries of France and Germany (most notably Germany).  He did not wish to come home.

Notice that while his mother and sister call him by his first name that the narrator consistently refers to him as Krebs.  It is as if the man who came back is not the same person as the one who left.  There is a profound feeling of change, that Krebs yearns for the simplicity of being a good soldier and resents the complexity of his previous civilian life.

~Brett Wilson

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9 thoughts on “Blog post: In Our Time, Soldier’s Home

  1. I agree with you Brett. Krebs, to me, seemed so distanced from everyone. He was with them, but his mind and heart were elsewhere. I don’t think he lied to his mom when he said he did not love her, or anyone else. I just wonder what happened to him to be changed so much.

    -Samka Aljukic

  2. Krebs is a prime example of a soldier with an undiagnosed case of post traumatic stress disorder. I’m sure he’s seen all kinds of horrible things in the war. Who knows…he could have been involved at the very beginning of the book on the Quai at Smyrna around all of those screaming people and dead babies…or maybe something very similar. The world was speeding up faster than he could handle and when he got back to the States, everything had changed. I guess he didn’t want to make an effort to be a part of the world because he didn’t feel like he would ever belong.
    Erika K.

  3. When I read this section, I thought it was the same as what Jonathan said in class, with the characters moving slowly towards loss. I know that Krebs felt like he wasn’t connected to anyone at home, but he didn’t seem to be as disconnected to his sister as everyone else. He still seemed to care about her. While Hemingway makes it seem as though Krebs doesn’t love his mother now, we don’t know if he ever did. I feel bad for Krebs, and I think he should have a long time to heal. His family may want it to happen quickly, but they just don’t understand.

    Savanna Beach

  4. I am one hundred percent with Erika on this one that Krebs is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. That was what WWI vets most often brought home with them. I took a class once that focused mainly on WWI literature (mostly European, but it would be the same for American soldiers) and PTSD (although it wasn’t a disorder that doctors would diagnose at the time) was a recurring theme. It goes along with what we’ve talked about in class: these young men were trying to live up to the Homeric ideal of heroism only to find that wars in the 20th century are nothing like that. We started out by looking at Rupert Brooke’s poem “The Solider” that illustrates the “go to war and die for your country because it is honorable” sentiment. It quickly shifted gears after the real start of the war, though, and I felt that it was best illustrated by Wilfred Owen’s poem “Dulce et Decorum est.” It’s gives off the exact sentiment of Krebs in this story. All the sudden they are witnessing the horrors of war and it’s not so fun anymore. The only way to survive is to become detached. Once Krebs trained himself to become detached, he couldn’t reattach to anything upon returning home. As for the French and German girls, he knew that he would never have to be attached to them so he didn’t have to worry about that. It was easier. Then suddenly he’s thrust back into his hometown with no real way of coping with what he’s been through.

    On a slightly unrelated side note (although it is from this story), the second paragraph really stood out to me:

    “There is a picture which shows him on the Rhine with two German girls and another corporal. Krebs and the corporal look too big for their uniforms. The German girls are not beautiful. The Rhine does not show in the picture.”

    I thought this paragraph to be 1. very, very, VERY Hemingway and (upon re-reading it) 2. somewhat telling of soldiers’ expectations of WWI. Here, Hemingway makes a statement then proceeds to completely tear down whatever image you have conjured up about that statement. Kinda like when the boys going over to war conjured up this image of heroism and glory only to have it be torn to shreds on arrival.

    I have dragged this on far too long. Apologies.

    • Shelby, you kind of hit it out of the park with this. I have also read “Dulce et Decorum est,” and it instantly popped into my mind while reading Krebs’ story. The sense of glory surrounding war has long since faded, and with the experiences that he has had, how would you not expect him to be detached and almost apathetic when he returns home? I agree with Brett that the man who came home is not the same who left, and the young, strong warrior inside of him died when he was over seas. It’s interesting to see Hemingway cover this type of material, considering his own experience with War, when he was a reporter. There is a sort of purpose to each and every word, which is especially evident when he describes Krebs’ homecoming. “By the time Krebs returned to his home town in Oklahoma the creating of heroes was over. He came back much too late. ” This then connects to a paragraph a little further on when Krebs is reading war books on his front porch, and feels as though he is learning about the true war, and the heroics, from books and maps. So even though he fought in the war, he has a different image in his head of what it was actually like. “He came back much too late,” like his mind and his body sort of suffered a disconnect when he left his hometown and fought overseas. Now that he is back, it’s interesting to think about whether he’ll ever be the same boy that left from that Methodist college.

      • This is a particularly great thread. Some of you are using the word “detatched” and it reminds me not just of Krebs but, as Erika points out, of the speaker in “On the Quay at Smyrna.” That narrator is calloused and hardened to human misery, a consequence of whatever trauma he has undergone prior to this moment (the iceberg below the sea). Krebs is just shattered, unable to forge bridges between himself and others–love makes us vulnerable, open, something he’s long ago closed off. For the record, you all are right, PTSD wouldn’t have been diagnosed, but this did discuss “shellshock,” the name for it at the time, a bit. Still, men were not to exhibit these feelings, but to “suck it up” and get on.

  5. “There is a picture which shows him on the Rhine with two German girls and another corporal. Krebs and the corporal look too big for their uniforms. The German girls are not beautiful. The Rhine does not show in the picture.”
    Shelby, I am glad you pointed out this paragraph– I marked it in the book too. So much is summed up in these sentences, the entire gist of the story, really— Hemingway exposes the whole tension between expectation and reality in regards to war (something so shrouded in romantic notions of conquest, glory, passion, etc.) and the disillusionment this clashing inevitably breeds—I also really liked this part, which mirrors the sentiment of Brett’s quote:
    “Vaguely he wanted a girl but he did not want to have to work to get her… he did not want to have to do any courting. He did not want to tell any more lies… he did not want any consequences.”
    Here, Krebs sounds so so sososososo thoroughly defeated. It’s quite sad, but it shows how his war experiences stole his spirit.
    -Alyssa

  6. An interesting thing to know about shellshock (now PTSD): During WWII General Patton was actually censured for punching a man and screaming at him in a hospital where he had retreated with shellshock. As a result, Patton got to head up the phantom brigade in England while the rest of the Generals were working on D-Day and executing it. It was also a huge deal back in the USA, a turning point in public sentiment towards this war hero; he didn’t lose his popularity necessarily, but he was not viewed in the same light either. The best, and weirdest, way I can relate that is Tom Cruise’s continued success following the recent media frenzy around Scientology and his bizarre marriage to Katy Holmes.

    Outside of the shellshock thing, I’m not sure that I agree that he is suffering from it. He is more dazed and apathetic than truly blown out, there are no signs of aggression or suicidal thoughts. He has simply moved from a more emotionally trying experience to one where expectations are vastly different than the previous: before, all he had to do was aim a gun and shoot some people, hire a hooker or pick up a girl, and that was it. The extraordinary was ordinary to him…now the ordinary is lessened.

    -luke

  7. Apologies for coming on late with this but I have to agree with the PTSD diagnosis and the idea of Krebs as a character who is unable to reassimilate into American society. There are some memories that never leave us, no matter how much time passes or how life changes along the way. For most of us, this is not a problem; we welcome the nostalgia that comes with fond remembrance. However, for a soldier who served in an active combat zone, the images those memories bring back are not pleasant. This, in my opinion, is the case with Krebs. His family’s inability to understand him is troubling but it is to be expected. They have never been forced to face their own mortality, let alone a German regiment in the trenches. In their case, and in the country’s case as well, ignorance was bliss.

    Brenden

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