Mental health is an area of healthcare that has not gained the attention it deserves for a long time, especially for those unaware that they need it, which is reoccurring problem for veterans. The short story “Soldier’s Home” by Ernest Hemingway was published in 1925. This story is set in a small town in Oklahoma and is about a man named Harold Krebs who has just recently returned from serving in World War One. Hemingway depicts what it is like to be a veteran battling internal struggles while reentering society, to raise awareness for how veterans were mistreated and not supported due to the lack of knowledge and inexistant means of getting help for mental health.
All of the story gives a look into what Harold’s life was like, but this section provides insight into how those closest to him feel about him and his lifestyle since his return from World War One. This creates a shift towards one of the heaviest hitting parts of the passage, as it is basically Harold’s mother expressing her and his father’s concern with his lack of achievements since returning from war. The initial conversation between them comes off as small talk about Harold being allowed to use the family car but it does not take long for his mother to turn this towards the true purpose of this conversation, which is voicing her and his father’s concerns and issues with his current lifestyle. This is toxic in itself because it is implying that Harold is gaining a privilege worthy of being excited for only if he complies to what his parents believe should change in his life.
Most of this story is told without dialogue between characters, but this changes when Harold and his mother begin to have a conversation. This change in style comes with a shift in tone away from just describing Harold’s life and towards addressing issues that Harold’s parents have with him. The shift to dialogue begins as small talk between Harold and his mother, then his sister, but his mother had his sister leave before she got more serious with him. The structure of this dialogue is not much of a conversation between Harold and his mother, as it is more her creating a verbal list of what Harold’s family believes he should be doing and how he should carry himself while he listens. This list like structure comes from Harold’s Mother listing concerns ones after another such as fearing he has lost his ambition, that he doesn’t have an idea of where his life is going, and that he isn’t on par with others at the same stage of life as him
The heart of the dialogue between Harold and his mother also has a large discrepancy in the size of what they’re saying to each other, where his mother would have a long portion to herself making multiple concerned statements to him while he offered either nothing at all or a few words as a response. This shows a combination of numbness and sadness as the things his mother is saying are bound to bring him down, but it is as if he is already as low as he can go and at this point just feels numb. This feeling of numbness and being at rock bottom can bring on depression and also worsen other mental health problems already present. The structural and punctual changes of this section allow a lot of room to read into what Harold is going though mentally and how those around him are perceiving it.
There are tones of disappointment that are prevalent in this passage. They are evident when the comparisons are made between Harold and his peers of the same age when his mother says “The boys are all settling down; they’re all determined to get somewhere…being really a credit to the community.” The mother is making it seem as though their concern is because Harold is not doing the same things that his peers of the same age are doing. This conditions Harold to feel as though his success is determined on how he compares to others and will lead to never being content with his own accomplishments. It is also worth noting the mention of bringing something to the community, completely disregarding that their son served the country in an extremely traumatizing war. This entire conversation shows that those closest to Harold do not acknowledge what he has been through and may continue to deal with whatsoever, only focusing on how normal his life is in comparison to others after return. This sort of lack of knowledge and approach of comparing veterans to others only serves to add to the burden already shouldered by these individuals. It invalidates their feelings and makes them feel as though there is no reason they are not doing better than they are.
Although the heart of this story is in the section of dialogue between Harold and his Mother, throughout the rest of the story Hemingway provides insight into other aspects of Harold’s life away from his family. One of these aspects is Harold’s relationships with others that are not related to him. Through giving us looks into Harold’s mind it becomes evident that he is desensitized to these relationships, especially with women. At one point, Harold is observing the women down the street and thinks to himself something from back when he was deployed in war, “When you were really ripe for a girl you always got one. You did not have to think about it. Sooner or later it could come” (Hemingway 3). This shows that through his time away at war he became desensitized to genuine relationships with women. Harold also believes that a relationship with a girl in his hometown is impossible because much like his parents, nobody understands or gives any thought as to why he is the way he is since returning home. This conclusion that he has come to makes him feel like there is no one he can connect with, which is shown in the quote “He liked the girls that were walking along the other side of the street. He liked the look of them much better than the French girls or the German girls. But the world they were in was not the world he was in” (Hemingway 3). The combination of becoming desensitized towards relationships and the feeling of not being able to connect with anyone has made it so that even when Harold likes the idea of a relationship, it seems as though it is not even worth pursuing it. The audience witnesses this being voiced when it’s stated that “Now he would have liked a girl if she had come to him and not wanted to talk. 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” (Hemingway 3). This mindset towards relationships that Hemingway depicts is forged by neglected mental health issues and shows just another way that veterans struggle to reenter society while carrying a desirable life. This also works to worsen existing mental health issues because it sets veterans up for a life of loneliness that lacks support from others when working through anything they may be dealing with.
Throughout this story, Hemingway uses multiple different techniques to portray what life is like both internally and externally for a veteran attempting to reenter society. Some of the techniques used include structural changes such as switching from narration to dialogue in the story telling, while also showing us how those close to Harold perceive his lifestyle and giving us looks inside Harold’s mind when it came to relationships and dealing with those not related to him. This is all done to raise awareness for the lack of support with mental health resources in healthcare for veterans and how they are often mistreated. This is an area of healthcare that has long been neglected for veterans and continues to be an issue today despite there being more knowledge about mental health than ever. Hopefully moving forward more stories can be published to spread awareness of this issues and facilitate changes to provide a good quality of life for veterans.
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Featured Image Citation
Hemingway, Ernest. (1925). Title and Author of story along with image of main character. [Digital Photograph]. HubPages. Retrieved May 4 ,2021 from https://discover.hubpages.com/literature/Ernest-Hemingway-An-analysis-and-interpretation-of-A-soldiers-home