Sunday, May 6, 2012

Modernity and Hemmingway

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Mass culture, consumerism, and modernity


“The Soldier’s Home” presents a struggle against the general concept of mass culture, consumerism, and modernity through Krebs’ attitude and actions upon his return home from the war which suggest a refusal and rejection of living in society’s world. The first two paragraphs serve as a reference to the comparison that Hemingway makes throughout the story between Krebs’ place and understanding of the world before the war and the new attitude that he adopts after the war. Before the war Krebs was a part of the mass culture society. The first paragraph explains that he went to a Methodist college and was part of a fraternity, “all of them wearing exactly the same height and style collar”(6), which suggests a certain conformity associated with modernity and mass culture. But once Krebs goes to the war he develops a new perspective of the society he lives in. The second paragraph suggests this idea. The way “Krebs and the corporal look too big for their uniforms” suggests the different experience that Krebs encounters during the war, a direct contrast to the well-fitting , styled, matching collars that he wore with his fraternity brothers. Further, the second paragraph says it is describing a picture “which shows him on the Rhine”, and then a few lines later says, “The Rhine doesn’t show in the picture”(6). This direct contradiction within the same paragraph shows the way Hemingway is commenting on the inconsistency of this alternate experience that Krebs encounters during the war thus validating the idea that an experience in the war has somehow brought Krebs outside this mass cultured society that he comes home to, which then allows for criticism of the society.


Later in the story this depart from mass culture that Krebs experiences come to serve as a criticism of mass culture, consumerism, and modernity. For example, when the story explains why Krebs doesn’t bother with the girls in America, it mentions that the girls “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”(71). This depicts the world that he returns to in America as very ‘complicated’ and political, as well as conformed and “already defined.” Krebs does not want to deal with this, given his newly adopted ability to see outside it all.


It seems that even at the end of the story Hemingway doesn’t offer much of a resolution. Krebs has a bit of a run in with his mother in which she becomes quite upset by her sons attitude and behavior. When she tries to make him pray he says he cannot. Earlier when they were speaking of God, Krebs mentioned, “I’m not in His Kingdom”, she said, “We are all of us in His Kingdom”, and “Krebs felt embarrassed and resentful as always”(75). This is an important tone that Hemingway sets. He describes Krebs as “resentful” , meaning “feeling aggrieved and ill-used.” This idea that he is ill-used refers to the way in which his mother feels that her son must take his place in society and get a job like the other boys his age and become a “credit to the community”(75), while Krebs rejects being another “modern man.” Given this context, it is significant that, towards the end of the story, it reads, “He would go to Kansas City and get a job and she would feel all right about it”(77). This ends the story with the conflict of Krebs’ personal desires and opinions versus the opinions and expectations of the modern society that surrounds him. “He would go over to the schoolyard and watch Helen play indoor baseball”(77) does not offer a resolution, but instead a commentary on the hopelessness of this character’s fate in the face of mass culture.


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