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“Soldier’s Home” by Ernest Hemingway

*The following short story “Soldier’s Home,” written by Ernest Hemingway and initially published in 1925, falls within the public domain in the United States. Ignoring our own usual standards, we have refrained from abridging or altering this work. It stands independently as a reflective narrative on the experiences of young men navigating life’s transitions. The protagonist, Harold Krebs is a young man from Oklahoma who is drafted during World War I to fight in Germany while in college. Upon his return home, he grapples with a sense of aimlessness, disconnection, and a wavering desire to reintegrate into society. He finds himself disillusioned with the consequences of existence and struggles to find understanding listeners for his own experiences. Despite being addressed as Harold by his mother, the narrative hints at his preference for the name Krebs, indicating a gradual erosion of his sense of self and belonging to family.

“Soldier’s Home”, by Ernest Hemingway

Krebs went to the war from a Methodist college in Kansas. There is a picture
which shows him among his fraternity brothers, all of them wearing exactly the
same height and style collar. He enlisted in the Marines in 1917 and did not return
to the United States until the second division returned from the Rhine in the
summer of 1919.

There is a picture which shows him on the Rhone 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.

By the time Krebs returned to his home town in Oklahoma the greeting of heroes
was over. He came back much too late. The men from the town who had been
drafted had all been welcomed elaborately on their return. There had been a great
deal of hysteria. Now the reaction had set in. People seemed to think it was rather
ridiculous for Krebs to be getting back so late, years after the war was over.

At first Krebs, who had been at Belleau Wood, Soissons, the Champagne, St.
Mihiel and in the Argonne did not want to talk about the war at all. Later he felt
the need to talk but no one wanted to hear about it. His town had heard too many
atrocity stories to be thrilled by actualities. Krebs found that to be listened to at all
he had to lie and after he had done this twice he, too, had a reaction against the
war and against talking about it. A distaste for everything that had happened to
him in the war set in because of the lies he had told. All of the times that had been
able to make him feel cool and clear inside himself when he thought of them; the
times so long back when he had done the one thing, the only thing for a man to
do, easily and naturally, when he might have done something else, now lost their
cool, valuable quality and then were lost themselves.

His lies were quite unimportant lies and consisted in attributing to himself things
other men had seen, done or heard of, and stating as facts certain apocryphal
incidents familiar to all soldiers. Even his lies were not sensational at the pool
room. His acquaintances, who had heard detailed accounts of German women
found chained to machine guns in the Argonne and who could not comprehend, or
were barred by their patriotism from interest in, any German machine gunners
who were not chained, were not thrilled by his stories.

Krebs acquired the nausea in regard to experience that is the result of untruth or
exaggeration, and when he occasionally met another man who had really been a
soldier and they talked a few minutes in the dressing room at a dance he fell into
the easy pose of the old soldier among other soldiers: that he had been badly,
sickeningly frightened all the time. In this way he lost everything.

During this time, it was late summer, he was sleeping late in bed, getting up to
walk down town to the library to get a book, eating lunch at home, reading on the
front porch until he became bored and then walking down through the town to
spend the hottest hours of the day in the cool dark of the pool room. He loved to
play pool.

In the evening he practiced on his clarinet, strolled down town, read and went to
bed. He was still a hero to his two young sisters. His mother would have given
him breakfast in bed if he had wanted it. She often came in when he was in bed
and asked him to tell her about the war, but her attention always wandered. His
father was non-committal.

Before Krebs went away to the war he had never been allowed to drive the family
motor car. His father was in the real estate business and always wanted the car to
be at his command when he required it to take clients out into the country to show
them a piece of farm property. 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.

Nothing was changed in the town except that the young girls had grown up. But
they lived in such a complicated world of already defined alliances and shifting
feuds that Krebs did not feel the energy or the courage to break into it. He liked to
look at them, though. There were so many good-looking young girls. Most of
them had their hair cut short. When he went away only little girls wore their hair
like that or girls that were fast. They all wore sweaters and shirt waists with round
Dutch collars. It was a pattern. 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. He liked the round Dutch collars above their sweaters. He
liked their silk stockings and flat shoes. He liked their bobbed hair and the way
they walked.

When he was in town their appeal to him was not very strong. He did not like
them when he saw them in the Greek’s ice cream parlor. He did not want them
themselves really. They were too complicated. There was something else.
Vaguely he wanted a girl but he did not want to have to work to get her. He would
have liked to have a girl but he did not want to have to spend a long time getting
her. He did not want to get into the intrigue and the politics. He did not want to
have to do any courting. He did not want to tell any more lies. It wasn’t worth it.

He did not want any consequences. He did not want any consequences ever again.
He wanted to live along without consequences. Besides he did not really need a
girl. The army had taught him that. It was all right to pose as though you had to
have a girl. Nearly everybody did that. But it wasn’t true. You did not need a girl.
That was the funny thing. First a fellow boasted how girls mean nothing to him,
that he never thought of them, that they could not touch him. Then a fellow
boasted that he could not get along without girls, that he had to have them all the
time, that he could not go to sleep without them.

That was all a lie. It was all a lie both ways. You did not need a girl unless you
thought about them. He learned that in the army. Then sooner or later you always
got one. 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. He had learned that in the

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. 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. He thought about France and
then he began to think about Germany. On the whole he had liked Germany
better. He did not want to leave Germany. He did not want to come home. Still, he
had come home. He sat on the front porch.

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. He would like to have one of them. But
it was not worth it. They were such a nice pattern. He liked the pattern. It was
exciting. But he would not go through all the talking. He did not want one badly
enough. He liked to look at them all, though. It was not worth it. Not now when
things were getting good again.

He sat there on the porch reading a book on the war. It was a history and he was
reading about all the engagements he had been in. It was the most interesting
reading he had ever done. He wished there were more maps. He looked forward
with a good feeling to reading all the really good histories when they would come
out with good detail maps. Now he was really learning about the war. He had
been a good soldier. That made a difference.

One morning after he had been home about a month his mother came into his
bedroom and sat on the bed. She smoothed her apron.

“I had a talk with your father last night, Harold,” she said, “and he is willing for
you to take the car out in the evenings.”

“Yeah?” said Krebs, who was not fully awake. “Take the car out? Yeah?”

“Yes. Your father has felt for some time that you should be able to take the car
out in the evenings whenever you wished but we only talked it over last night.”

“I’ll bet you made him,” Krebs said.

“No. It was your father’s suggestion that we talk the matter over.”

“Yeah. I’ll bet you made him,” Krebs sat up in bed.

“Will you come down to breakfast, Harold?” his mother said.”

“As soon as I get my clothes on,” Krebs said.

His mother went out of the room and he could hear her frying something
downstairs while he washed, shaved and dressed to go down into the dining-room
for breakfast. While he was eating breakfast, his sister brought in the mail.

“Well, Hare,” she said. “You old sleepy-head. What do you ever get up for?”
Krebs looked at her. He liked her. She was his best sister.

“Have you got the paper?” he asked.

She handed him The Kansas City Star and he shucked off its brown wrapper and
opened it to the sporting page. He folded The Star open and propped it against the
water pitcher with his cereal dish to steady it, so he could read while he ate.

“Harold,” his mother stood in the kitchen doorway, “Harold, please don’t muss up
the paper. Your father can’t read his Star if its been mussed.”

“I won’t muss it,” Krebs said.

His sister sat down at the table and watched him while he read.

“We’re playing indoor over at school this afternoon,” she said. “I’m going to

“Good,” said Krebs. “How’s the old wing?”

“I can pitch better than lots of the boys. I tell them all you taught me. The other
girls aren’t much good.”

“Yeah?” said Krebs.

“I tell them all you’re my beau. Aren’t you my beau, Hare?”

“You bet.”

“Couldn’t your brother really be your beau just because he’s your brother?”

“I don’t know.”

“Sure you know. Couldn’t you be my beau, Hare, if I was old enough and if you
wanted to?”

“Sure. You’re my girl now.”

“Am I really your girl?”


“Do you love me?”

“Uh, huh.”

“Do you love me always?”


“Will you come over and watch me play indoor?”


“Aw, Hare, you don’t love me. If you loved me, you’d want to come over and
watch me play indoor.”

Krebs’s mother came into the dining-room from the kitchen. She carried a plate
with two fried eggs and some crisp bacon on it and a plate of buckwheat cakes.

“You run along, Helen,” she said. “I want to talk to Harold.”

She put the eggs and bacon down in front of him and brought in a jug of maple
syrup for the buckwheat cakes. Then she sat down across the table from Krebs.

“I wish you’d put down the paper a minute, Harold,” she said.

Krebs took down the paper and folded it.

“Have you decided what you are going to do yet, Harold?” his mother said, taking
off her glasses.

“No,” said Krebs.

“Don’t you think it’s about time?” His mother did not say this in a mean way. She
seemed worried.

“I hadn’t thought about it,” Krebs said.

“God has some work for every one to do,” his mother said. “There can be no idle
hands in His Kingdom.”

“I’m not in His Kingdom,” Krebs said.

“We are all of us in His Kingdom.”

Krebs felt embarrassed and resentful as always.

“I’ve worried about you too much, Harold,” his mother went on. “I know the
temptations you must have been exposed to. I know how weak men are. I know
what your own dear grandfather, my own father, told us about the Civil War and I
have prayed for you. I pray for you all day long, Harold.”

Krebs looked at the bacon fat hardening on his plate.

“Your father is worried, too,” his mother went on. “He thinks you have lost your
ambition, that you haven’t got a definite aim in life. Charley Simmons, who is just
your age, has a good job and is going to be married. The boys are all settling
down; they’re all determined to get somewhere; you can see that boys like Charley
Simmons are on their way to being really a credit to the community.”

Krebs said nothing.

“Don’t look that way, Harold,” his mother said. “You know we love you and I
want to tell you for your own good how matters stand. Your father does not want
to hamper your freedom. He thinks you should be allowed to drive the car. If you
want to take some of the nice girls out riding with you, we are only too pleased.
We want you to enjoy yourself. But you are going to have to settle down to work,
Harold. Your father doesn’t care what you start in at. All work is honorable as he
says. But you’ve got to make a start at something. He asked me to speak to you
this morning and then you can stop in and see him at his office.”

“Is that all?” Krebs said.

“Yes. Don’t you love your mother dear boy?”

“No,” Krebs said.

His mother looked at him across the table. Her eyes were shiny. She started

“I don’t love anybody,” Krebs said.

It wasn’t any good. He couldn’t tell her, he couldn’t make her see it. It was silly to
have said it. He had only hurt her. He went over and took hold of her arm. She
was crying with her head in her hands.

“I didn’t mean it,” he said. “I was just angry at something. I didn’t mean I didn’t
love you.”

His mother went on crying. Krebs put his arm on her shoulder.

“Can’t you believe me, mother?”

His mother shook her head.

“Please, please, mother. Please believe me.”

“All right,” his mother said chokily. She looked up at him. “I believe you,

Krebs kissed her hair. She put her face up to him.

“I’m your mother,” she said. “I held you next to my heart when you were a tiny

Krebs felt sick and vaguely nauseated.

“I know, Mummy,” he said. “I’ll try and be a good boy for you.”

“Would you kneel and pray with me, Harold?” his mother asked.

They knelt down beside the dining-room table and Krebs’s mother prayed.

“Now, you pray, Harold,” she said.

“I can’t,” Krebs said.

“Try, Harold.”

“I can’t.”

“Do you want me to pray for you?”


So his mother prayed for him and then they stood up and Krebs kissed his mother
and went out of the house. He had tried so to keep his life from being
complicated. Still, none of it had touched him. He had felt sorry for his mother
and she had made him lie. He would go to Kansas City and get a job and she
would feel all right about it. There would be one more scene maybe before he got
away. He would not go down to his father’s office. He would miss that one. He
wanted his life to go smoothly. It had just gotten going that way. Well, that was
all over now, anyway. He would go over to the schoolyard and watch Helen play
indoor baseball.

The End

*Post Script:

During World War I, Ernest Hemingway volunteered to serve in Italy as an ambulance driver for the American Red Cross. In June 1918, while he was distributing chocolate and cigarettes to soldiers from a mobile canteen, he was wounded by Austrian mortar fire. “Then there was a flash, as when a blast-furnace door is swung open, and a roar that started white and went red,” he recounted in a letter home.

Despite sustaining injuries, Hemingway managed to evacuate a wounded Italian soldier to safety but was hit again by machine-gun fire. In recognition of his bravery, he was awarded the Silver Medal of Valor by the Italian government, becoming one of the first Americans to receive this honor.

Reflecting on this experience years later in his work “Men at War,” Hemingway observed: “When you go to war as a boy you have a great illusion of immortality. Other people get killed; not you. . . . Then when you are badly wounded the first time you lose that illusion and you know it can happen to you. After being severely wounded two weeks before my nineteenth birthday I had a bad time until I figured out that nothing could happen to me that had not happened to all men before me. Whatever I had to do men had always done. If they had done it then I could do it too and the best thing was not to worry about it.”

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