Theme is defined as the central idea or meaning of a story. It is what the plot of the whole story revolves around, and it is what ties everything within the story together. Finding the theme of the story may be challenging at times and can often be confused with the subject; however, with the proper critical reading techniques, the theme is much easier to determine. The search for the theme can be aided by identifying the setting, character traits, the plot, symbols and other features of the story.
The theme found within Ernest Hemingway’s “Soldier’s Home,” which is enhanced through the use of the setting, symbols, and characterization, is that war changes people. First of all, the theme that Hemingway’s “Soldier’s Home” is centered around is that war changes people. Being on the battlefield and witnessing all the death and destruction of war takes a toll on the mental well being of a person. Human beings are not programmed to see their fellow soldiers shot to death or blown to pieces right next to them.
They are also not programmed to kill seemingly countless numbers of other human beings for, in some instances, what seems to be a meaningless cause. After a few years of being on the battlefield and witnessing the effects of war, returning back home and trying to reintegrate one into his old way of life is not an easy task, which Hemingway expresses throughout the story. Hemingway uses the main character Krebs to emphasize the theme of war changes people.
Krebs is a soldier who has recently returned home after being in the war for two years. Knowing that Krebs was enlisted from1917 to 1919 readers can assume that he was a soldier during World War 1. World War 1 was history’s most gruesome war with the use of poison gas and many other currently outlawed weapons. Realizing that Krebs has witnessed such horrific events, it is likely for him to be traumatized from what he had seen. Krebs was not welcomed back to his hometown “elaborately,” as previous soldiers from his town were.
When he returned home, Krebs felt isolated and alone; “he wanted to live alone without consequences;” he is afraid to get emotionally close to someone in fear of losing them the way he lost fellow friends and soldiers in the war (Hemingway 166). Another example of the war changing Krebs is that after returning from the war, Krebs also finds that he is unable or unwilling to pray. This is because Krebs has a lack of faith in God after what he saw on the battlefield, stating, “I’m not in His Kingdom” (Hemingway 168).
Another way Hemingway uses characterization to portray his theme of war changes people is with Krebs’s little sister. Stating “he liked her. She was his best sister,” shows that Krebs hasn’t given up on everyone. The reason Hemingway includes the sister in the story is to show that people need to put in an effort to help soldiers fit in. Unlike the other characters, Krebs’s sister is willing to have an average conversation with him and not ask him about the war or pressure him to fit in. She actually wants “to talk to [him]” and wants to spend time with him by inviting him to her baseball game (Hemingway 168).
She doesn’t act like he is weird or different from other people just because he went to war; she loves him even though he changed from his time in the war. When she asks if he will “love [her] always,” Krebs says “sure,” even though he said he didn’t love his mother (Hemingway 168). This proves that if people adapt to Krebs, then it will help Krebs with being accepting into society as his new self, rather than being pressured to be who he was before the war. The story ends with Krebs going to watch his sister’s baseball game.
Hemingway uses Krebs support of his sister to show how because she accepts the new him and loves him anyways, he wants to be part of her life and support her by attending her game. Through the use of setting, Hemingway is able to further enhance his theme of war changes people. The story is set in Krebs’s hometown, which is a small town in Oklahoma. The town is the kind of place where everyone knows each other and what each other do. This is significant because small towns as less likely to change than large cities are.
The town acts as a character foil by contrasting the dramatic change Krebs goes through. The people within the town don’t feel as if they need to adapt to help Krebs fit in; instead, they feel as if Krebs needs to put in an effort to be “normal” again. Because the people of the town were unable to understand what Krebs was going through, “Krebs found that to be listened to he had to lie,” and this causes Krebs to also have a “distaste for everything that happened to him in the war” (Hemingway 165).
Through the use of symbols Hemingway is able to further convey his theme of war changes people with the use of Krebs’s mother. His mother is used as a symbol to portray the town as a whole. The way Krebs’s mother persistently pressures him to be “normal” again is the same way the town views him and acts around him. When his mother asks if he “[wants her] to pray for him” it raises the question of is she praying that he will return to normal and be able to fit in with the community once again.
Also, when Krebs’s mother asks if he loves her and he says no it is symbolic for how he hates the town because no one understands him including his own mother. He only takes back what he says about not loving her when she begins to cry. Him taking it back due to sympathy symbolizes that even though he hates being in the town, he stays because he will feel bad if he leaves. A second symbol Hemingway uses to portray the theme of war changes people is the picture of Krebs and another soldier at “the Rhine with two German girls,” where “Krebs and the other corporal look too big for their uniforms” (Hemingway 165).
This picture symbolizes how Krebs changed throughout the war; the fact that they “look too big for their uniforms” shows that when they first joined the army they were younger and smaller, growing throughout their time in the war. Also, throughout the story Krebs see girls within his town and thinks to himself that he would want to be with those girls but he doesn’t want the commitment. The two German girls in the picture symbolize this lack of commitment because they are most likely prostitutes from “the Rhine,” who require no commitment at all.
Krebs got used to not having emotional relationships with girls making it hard for him to interact with the ones in his town. Another symbol Hemingway uses to convey the theme of war changes people is the school Krebs left to go to war from. “Krebs went to war from a Methodist college,” and the college is another symbol to represent the amount of change he went through (Hemingway 165). Being from a Methodist college means he is most likely a strong believer in God. However, near the end of the story he is unable to pray, and he portrays a lack of faith in God.
This lack of faith is caused by what he experienced and witnessed throughout the war. Krebs was also part of a fraternity within the college. Hemingway mentions this fraternity as a way of describing how before the war Krebs fit in very well. Throughout the story “Soldier’s Home” Hemingway uses the setting, symbols, and the characters in order to better portray his theme of war changes people. He uses Krebs to represent the effect that war has on people and the amount of change they go through from such an experience.
Krebs’s mother is used as a symbol for the town and its beliefs and how the town expects Krebs to be “normal” again. Being able to adapt to who Krebs is after the war, his sister is able to also reach out to him and get him back of track better. Through the use of setting the small town in Oklahoma enhances the amount of change Krebs went through. Finally, Hemingway uses multiple symbols, such as Krebs’s Methodist College and the picture of him being too big for his uniform; to show the changes Krebs goes through.
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