The Feeling of Alienation Described in Soldier's Home

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Alienation is the emotional detachment or isolation from society. Characters that are alienated feel ostracized and do not take part in their society. It can also be described as the loss of hope, a loss of faith, or unbelief. Alienation is not just a theme in literature. In fact, it is a real-life occurrence. For instance, following the aftermaths of a war, many soldiers feel incapable of returning to their societies for various reasons like the loss of purpose, the inability to socialize, and a permanent trauma that haunts the soldier for what he’s seen and done. Emotions and feelings like these can be visualized in literature in various shapes. A writer can use symbols and themes to embellish the ideology of alienation in a story. With that said, this essay seeks to analyze the different illustrations of alienation in the two short stories Soldier’s Home and A Clean, Well-Lighted Place by the writer Ernest Hemingway. By using scholarly articles and literary reviews of the short stories, I hope to get a better image of what Hemingway was trying to portray in his two short stories. The essay is not perfect; the stories I am analyzing are open to interpretation. Every reader can have a different view on the matter, which is why articles and analyses may lack concrete practicality. However, it still holds value. By knowing the different illustrations of alienation, this will give an insight toward the different manifestations of alienation. If we are able to comprehend the different shapes of alienation in literature, we may be able to understand the thought process behind it. Every writer puts his own emotions and thoughts into what he writes. If we were to make use of the illustrations given by the writer, we can further understand alienation as an occurrence in the world.

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Ernest Miller Hemingway was a prominent character in the 20th century. His works have been known to include alienation as an aspect. To understand why that is, we must first look at Hemingway’s life. Hemingway attended World War I as an ambulance driver in Italy [1]. Although he was struck by shrapnel [2], he found his first lover outside his country. With all of this happening to him, he returned home to get a letter from his lover saying she didn’t want to develop it into a relationship. Emotions and feelings like these developed into stories like The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, and many others. According to a study, “In the book, The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, the three main characters deal with some form of alienation.” These stories together have a similar pattern of alienation that Hemingway was trying to portray.

Countless stories have been worded by Ernest Hemingway. In fact, one of the stories this essay will analyze will be the famous Soldier’s Home. Soldier’s Home is a story by Ernest written in 1925. It revolves around Harold Krebs, a young man who fought in the Rhine. After coming back home, Krebs finds a difficulty in socializing with his friends, family and his society as a whole. As a result, he isolates himself from those various elements he had a hard time facing. This is a form of alienation which many soldiers face. After a war, soldiers become purposeless, with nothing to support their need to apply a change in the world. This leaves them with an underlying feeling of being different, causing them to translate that difference into a social one. And that is in fact the broad definition of alienation: a social isolation.

Starting with Krebs’s name, it appears to have a hidden meaning. The word is an archaic English name that is derived from the older English name Hereweald. This name itself is divided into here, meaning “army,” and weald, meaning “power.” [3][4] His second name, Krebs, happens to originate from Switzerland and Germany. The name suggests a crab like person. That is, he stays in his shell rather than escape his bubble. [5] This suggests that Krebs’s place is in the army, where he can fulfill his role and make use of his abilities. Being drawn away from war leaves him defective, driving him to alienation. With the start of the story, Krebs enlists in the Marines but only returns home 2 years later. He describes his experience in the war with a photo on the Rhine. As he describes the girls in the photo, he makes it clear that the Rhine does not appear in the photo. By taking a picture of things that don’t involve the war, he is trying to suppress the traumatizing memories that he clotted from the war. From the very beginning, he is trying to isolate himself from the things he faced back there as a soldier. [6] When Krebs got back home, everyone had already celebrated the arrival of the previous soldiers. His homecoming did not mean a thing to Oklahoma, his town. As stated in the story (p.1), “By the time Krebs returned to his home town in Oklahoma the greeting of heroes was over. He came back much too late.” By having the townspeople treat Krebs this way, this is more of a reason to exacerbate the alienation Krebs is feeling. 

Moving through the story, it is clear that no one wants to listen to Krebs. However, Krebs figures out a way to grab their attention, that way being to lie. According to the story (p. 2), “A distaste for everything that had happened to him in the war set in because of the lies he had told.” This statement infers that Krebs tried opening up about the war. In fact, he told lies to get the attention of the townspeople. When he did, however, nobody listened even though he embellished the stories with lies. With that said, Krebs does not want the war to be a part of who he is anymore. It became a burden rather than a heroic achievement. This is likely to be a cause for alienation as he is trying to distance himself from the warfare he joined. As Krebs is describing his current emotions, he elides any hints of what happened during the war. By doing that, he separates himself from the war and the memories that come with it. The fact that he omitted the lies he told is important as well. By not saying anything, the truth and dishonesty both have a similar stature. In that sense, Krebs not only ostracizes himself from the war that happened, he ostracizes himself from the imagination that was forged into the truth. As a result, Krebs loses sight of his own memories. By merging the truth and lies into one, he loses a part of himself in the process. He will no longer remember who he once was in the fullest picture, thus isolating himself from his past.  

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