Ernest Hemingway’s Soldier’s Home and Tim O’Brien’s How to Tell a True War Story
Ernest Hemingway’s “Soldier’s Home” is a story which follows the life of a World War I soldier who returns to a society that has stagnated. This leads to a conflict between the personality of the transformed Harold Krebs and the traditional values held by the society. The story is a depiction of the challenges that many returning soldiers find as they try to fit back into the society. The irony of the situation is that Krebs is at home and with his family yet he feels neither at home nor the warmth of being with family. Arriving lat after almost everyone had returned to war and told their gruesome and hyperbolic stories; Krebs is forced to lie about his experience in order to fit in. He therefore becomes a protagonist fighting against the all powerful antagonist; the society. As the conflict between the society and Krebs intensifies and complication intensifies, Krebs decides to move to Kansas City. It is the denouement of the long standing feud which at its climax saw him lie to his own mother that he loves her. By portraying Krebs as a rounded character, Hemingway retells his own experience at the battlefront as a soldier. Through a third person and omniscient narrator and diction, Hemingway gives his characters a psychological depth and detail that they almost seem real. Such characterization gives the short story high degree of verisimilitude.
The story “How to Tell a True War Story” is a true story of war retold by a first person yet unreliable narrator. The story examines the tragic stories of war and how it affects the life of soldiers. This is manifested by the admission of the main character and protagonist O’Brien, a soldier who has lost close friends in the battle that true battle stories are not true. They are based on lies and half truths. With this point of view, the omniscient narrator cements this view through a series of flashbacks and subplots of the various encounters the soldiers had in the battlefield which give credence to the his point of view. The story is laced with irony; at the onset O’Brien this is a true story but later admits that it is almost impossible to tell what actually happened and what seemed to have taken place in the trenches of war. Other characters such as Mitchell Sanders admit that some parts of the stories were invented while O’Brien holds that the truth about a war story relies on the ability of the audience to stomach what is being told and not necessarily the truth itself.
The two stories, with a post-war setting, depict the theme of conflict between individual values and reality. Krebs’ values conflicts with the traditional values in the society based on lies because his war experience has transformed him. He is forced to detach himself from the society and isolate himself in the city away from religion, social relations, ambition and love. The town, which has not changed other than the grills growing up (124), is obsessed with war fantasies. Defalco notes that “he is forced to tell lies about his war experience in order to gain the approval of his associates” (Defalco 140; Petrarca 665). Even after telling his mother that he does not love her, Krebs brings tears of joy to her when he recants his earlier statement. Johnson notes that Johnson, “tears blur her vision… [she forces] him into hypocrisy…” (Johnson 125). O’Brien and his fellow soldiers’ experiences conflicts with the need to tell the truth about their experiences in war. Instead of offering the objective truth, they resort to the subjective truth. Both authors use dialogues and diction to relay their message and give life to fiction.
Petrarca, Anthony J. “Irony of Situation in Ernest Hemingway’s Soldiers Home.” English Journal. 58 (1969): 664-67.
Johnston, Kenneth G. The Tip of the Iceberg: Hemingway and the short story. Greenwood: The Penkevill Publishing Company, 1987. 75-79.
Hemingway, Ernest. “Soldiers Home.” The Bedford Introduction to Literature. Ed. Michael Meywr.2nd ed. New York: Bedford St. Martins, 1990.121-126.
Defalco, Joseph. The Hero in Hemingway’s Short Stories. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1963. 136-144.
O’Brien, Tim. “How To Tell A True War Story”. 1987. http://www.user.dccnet.com/jonleblanc/war.html