A Soldier’s Consequence in Ernest Hemingway’s Works
There is an undeniable gab between ordinary people and soldiers. People move on from war, but soldiers can’t. They leave home and when they return back to their normal life, nothing has changed. But the soldier has experienced a tremendous amount of trauma and have seen things that have changed them forever. According to the Mayo Clinic, PTSD, otherwise known as Post-traumatic stress disorder, is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event by either experiencing it or witnessing it. Ernest Hemingway wrote “Soldiers Home” to show people what it’s like for post-war veterans. The protagonist, Harold Krebs, returns home after serving in World War I. He returns home which has not changes, everything is exactly the same, but he has changed. There are several symptoms of PTSD that Hemingway illustrations through Krebs. He faces many challenges throughout the story such as flashbacks, emotional detachment, and lying. Hemingway shows his readers the hardships soldiers face once they return home from war and the ways they deal with trauma.
Harold Krebs was just like any normal person before going to war. He had a good relationship with his family and was attending college to get an education. Krebs went off to war and came back to the same life but was a different person. He no longer was close to his family or wasn’t doing anything that he was partaking in before he left. He wasn’t interested in girls and does nothing but sleep in late and go for an occasional drive in his dad’s car.
Krebs is confused by the fact that nothing other than him, had changed. His father’s car was still parked where it had been before he left. “The car always stood outside the First National Bank building where his father had an office on the second floor. Now, after the war, it was still the same car” (Hemingway 2). I understand how people think it’s strange to think that war cold change someone. I’m at home, doing the same thing while a soldier is living a completely different life. It’s terrifying, people are dying around you and your witnessing things that people should never be subjected to see.
The only thing that had changed were the girls, they grew up. Krebs loved watching the women. “He liked to look at them from the front porch as they walked on the other side of the street. He liked to watch them walking under the shade of the trees” (Hemingway 2). Although he liked to look at women, he wanted nothing to do with them. He said that he wanted a girl, but he didn’t want to put in the effort. He didn’t want the complications that came from women. Girls have their fights and cliques with one another and Krebs steered clear from that. Now this could be any normal guy just not wanting to put I effort and not want drama in his life. But, Krebs just decides to be anti-social and isolate himself from society. It would have been easier for Krebs to come back and notice that changes had been made. Maybe his family made renovations to their home, his dad had gotten a new car. Krebs was delighted to see that at least the girls had gotten older and Physically changed. Krebs doesn’t want to admit to himself that the war changed him because he didn’t want to change. But the war changed him without his permission or knowledge.
Krebs is vulnerable and unable to talk about his experiences during the war. He wants nothing more than to be able to talk to is family and the people closest to him, but they won’t listen. He believed that to get people to listen to him, it was easier to lie. War experiences and stories are things people are far too familiar with. So, what does Krebs have to say that would catch someone’s attention or something knew that they have never heard? Krebs believes that people will get bored with his story. Krebs isolates himself from everyone because he keeps everything bottled in and silences himself.
Krebs is unable to move on and is ultimately disconnected from society due to the fact that when he’s to ready to share his experience, he decides lie. Krebs would occasionally go and meet with other soldiers. He would hear them talk about their experiences and would try to talk about his own. He shared stories that weren’t his own. He talked about things that other people has seen, done, and heard about. He felt uneasy with it as “Krebs acquired the nausea in regard to experience that is the result of untruth or exaggeration” (Hemingway 1). He felt sick about lying, but he physically got sick when experiencing flashbacks. As a result, he threw up. I don’t know if Krebs lies to seem cool, or if he uses it as a coping mechanism because he can’t talk about his own trauma. I look at it as if you were to ask a soldier if they have ever killed a person. They may lie and say no to try to forget about the “terrible” things they did while serving. Now, ordinary people see killing another as terrible and horrific, but that is what a soldier is trained to do. They do whatever necessary to protect their fellow soldiers. So, I believe that Krebs is using the tool of “lying” to try to escape his own personal issues.
The war and trauma also made Krebs emotionally unstable and essentially feeling numb to any and all feelings. An example would be when his mom asks, “Don’t you love your mother, dear boy?” and Krebs responds by saying “I don’t love anybody” (Hemingway 6). In a way, Krebs believes his lie is consoling his mom, but it only makes her more upset and she starts to cry. The disconnect comes from the fact that Krebs mom simply can’t understand him or see where he is coming from. Krebs wants to express himself and tell his mom about the pain, but he feels that he can’t. Even when Krebs’ sister asks if he loved her, he responded with “uh-huh.” (Hemingway 5). He isn’t capable of saying the phrase “I love you,” similarly to when his mom asks him.
Hemingway has created several pieces of work dealing with trauma, coping, and post-war veterans. I think he tries to raise questions and show people what veterans are forced to go through, and how America forgets about them. In the 1920’s, before PTSD was discovered, it was known as “shell-shock.” Lewis Yealland was a British clinician, who published a writing in 1918 called Hysterical Disorders of Warfare. He described brutal treatment that veterans faced and saw shell-shock or PTSD as personal failure. Yealland treated a patient for nine months and told him, “You will not leave this room until you are talking as well as you ever did; you must behave as the hero I expect you to be” (Yelland 9). Patients were subjected to electric shocks, branding, and all other kinds of horrific torture. To expect someone to experience a traumatic event and not be affected by it is ridiculous! Inflicting more torture on someone that just got back from war, I think would only make that person worse.
A soldier who suffered from shell-shock during this time was seen as a weak individual. Soldiers are supposed to be strong and courageous men. So, when they come home not being able to talk about what happened, experiencing flashbacks, they are seen as being a coward and weak. Basically, a “true soldier” should be able to go to war, come back home, and act as if nothing ever happened. Essentially, they should “snap out of it.” So, I think it’s interesting to see Krebs’ perspective, even though it’s a story, it relates to so many other veterans. They are not allowed to show emotion and we see that with Krebs as he is unable to express his emotions. He was upset with the fact that nothing in his old life had changed. He hoped for change so that he wouldn’t have to face reality; that war did change him.
The story also seems to suggest that Krebs lost his religious faith after the war. His mom says, “God has some work for everyone to do.” Krebs responds by saying, ‘I’m not in His Kingdom” (Hemingway 6). He says this with no emotion, suggesting that the war took away his beliefs. It’s common for soldiers to lose some beliefs after war. The experience of the war shapes people’s beliefs. One may ask, “Why would God allow for this type of violence?” Many believe god will protect them from death and from harm, and he doesn’t. This is all hypothetically speaking but guessing from Krebs personality; not wanting anything to do with anyone, destroyed any remainder of faith.
PTSD disrupts someone’s everyday life. Krebs only exhibits a few of the characteristics, which are flashbacks, emotional detachment, and lying. I think it’s normal for some people to expect for someone who comes back from war as themselves; nothing has changed, because we could never understand. I think in the end, that’s what Hemingway is getting at. Throughout “Soldiers Home”, Krebs was having trouble coming to terms with the fact that the war had changed him. In many ways, it takes a traumatic event in order for someone to change. That’s not saying that’s a good or bad thing. But, while people are home, living their normal lives, not much is changing around them. A soldier is in foreign territory and living a compete different life. So, it’s hard for Krebs to talk to his family about what caused him to change. The consequence of becoming a soldier is changing once you leave.
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