Analysis of “Soldiers Home” by Ernest Hemmingway and “How to Tell a True War Story” by Tim O’Brien

Ernest Hemmingway’s short story, “Soldier’s Home” provides a thorough analysis of a soldier’s life prior to the battle and the aftermath of the war. The author builds his story on a character called Krebs. Krebs is deeply devastated by the events of the war, and these experiences had a great impact on his entire life. The author’s intention was to highlight the plight of soldiers on combat and bring out their grievances. The story demonstrated that the military and military life in general has the potential to influence an individual’s outlook completely. Tim O’Brien’s “How to Tell a True War Story” narrates the experiences of soldiers at war, but the author is more inclined to moral issues. The story highlights the moral side of the combat.

In relation to the two authors’ works, their plot is almost similar whereby they are both talking about the events that happened in the war and after it. O’Brien talks about the experience that he and his men had during the war in Vietnam. However, in relation to the plot, O’Brien’s story is narrated from the beginning of the war, i.e. the events that made the men go to war, the experiences during the war as well as the trauma that they have to experience after the war. In contrary to this, Ernest Hemmingway does not bring out the events that occurred during the war, but his narration begins in the middle where the king is trying to get back home after the war thus creating contrast in plot of the two stories (Hemmingway 21).

Tim O’Brien begins his short story by describing the events that occurred in the course of his Vietnam experience. It catalogs a variety of things his fellow soldiers brought on their missions. Apart from the plot, various factors in these two books are brought out to be either contrasting or alike in a sense that makes them comparable. Some characters in the stories are brought out to be contrary in terms of the way they are described. For instance, the main protagonists in the two stories have children who are brought out having contrary characters. Kathleen, Tim’s daughter, is described to be naïve and lacking understanding of the real meaning of war; that is why Tim does not tell her if he really killed a man during the war.

The theme of distraction has been highlighted in both stories. Cross is distracting himself with thoughts of Martha, a college crush, when his partner Lavender is killed, and this guilt haunts him for a long time blaming the soldier’s death on himself. The distraction is revealed in “Love” that Cross’s feelings for Martha, whom he had dated once before he left for Vietnam, alternatively, distraction is portrayed in ”Soldier’s Home”, where the men are distracted by the bags which were given to Odysseus by Aeolus, the god of the winds. The sailors foolishly opened the bag as Odysseus slept, thinking it contained gold. And all the wind flows out resulting to storm, which drives the ships back the way they had come, just as Ithaca came into sight (O’Brien 13). This theme is also portrayed by the sirens that lure the sailors to their deaths by seduction
Perseverance is also another theme brought out in both books. The soldiers have to persevere in the war although it was not their intentions to join in as they cannot give up for the fear of embarrassment. Thus, they have to fight even to the risk of death. Also after the war, those who returned home had to endure the trauma they had after war, as brought out by the author.

The other element that forms a contrast in the character formation of the two literary works is the disguise of duty, where in the case of Krebs, where he has enough courage to lie to the society in order to hide the ordeal in the perception of participation of war. This is in contrast with the honesty virtue given to Lemon, who is appraised by his friend Kiley due to the experience he bore before meeting with his death. This element of description has a contrast in the sense that in the case of Krebs, he is alienated to being associated with the war, which is a negative move towards the actual nature of events since he had participated in the first place, where denial would mean lack of honesty on his part.

However, he has to lie about the venture in order to fit in the conviction of the indifference with war that the society formed after he participated. In fact, when he could not lie anymore about his nature, he decides to keep quite and take everything by himself, which deepens the source of his frustrations (Hemmingway 23). On the contrary, the formation where Kiley has to write to Lemon’s sister describing how skillful his friend had been shows that there is a positive correlation between the war and the talented efforts vested towards tossing a live smoke grenade that was used as a plaything. This is a contrast that depicts irony in the face of Lemon since his attributes of being skillful are faded in the name of being killed in a war. This also gives the regards of a true war veteran, where as much as Krebs goes through the path of war without the blemish of death, Lemon on his part shows incompetence since he is killed in the course of duty.

The common description that depicts resemblance in the plot setting between the two literary works lies in the choice of a battlefield as a common entity for display of morality within the society. This is from the fact that in both cases, the authors give the description of the real consequences of the war field. This is a common setting since Krebs is seen to be a hero turned into a villain after the consequences of the battlefield on one hand, while the description of the death of Lemon, which is coined to look as if it is a moral thing taking place elucidates how the battleground looks like (O’Brien 14). Moreover, O’Brien puts emphasis on the nature of the battlefield, where the consequences of the lack of resources vested towards war could result in death. The soldier had to come up with the coping mechanisms in order to overcome the real wrath of the warfare. For instance, the psychological torture that Kiley goes through after Lemon’s sister fails to reply to the letter containing the details of the death of a long-time friend prompts him to refer to her as a “dumb cooze”. This shows that the society does not appreciate the selfless efforts vested towards protection of their interest through battlefields. This also shows that the society is immune towards the passion of those who have to cope with the consequences of the battlefield in both cases.

The other element that describes commonness in the setting of the plot in the two stories is the aftermath of the battlefield. Both stories have a poor correlation between the purpose of the war and the aftermath of the war. In the “Soldier’s Home”, Hemmingway tries to give a veteran of war, who is turned into a villain after the war due to the indifference of the society towards the ideology of war. After walking out of the war unscathed, Krebs should have been the most celebrated because of acting in the context of a monument of good service. Contrary to this, the society has a different attitude towards his plight, where his mother forms the force of advice towards dissuading the son in an engagement in the battlefield and advises him to find a job where war is not considered as a form of employment. This is also evident in the perceptions that the “dumb Cooze” regards for a slain brother. It is most expected that after succumbing to death, the sister should have been concerned about this situation. Contrary to this, she seems not to care about the consequences of Lemon to the level that she turns a cold ear to the death news. This also shows that she does not seem to care about the fighting brother. This also puts the regards of the society in relation to war as being indifferent in both cases, where the participants of war are not regarded by the society in both cases.

The common element in the setting of both “Soldier’s Home” and “How to Tell a True War Story” lies in the exaggeration of the scenes. It is evident that in a battlefield, a trained soldier cannot toss a live smoke grenade lest he gets blown up. This is in relation to the description of the death of Lemon, where O’Brien tries to capture the eye of the reader in describing death as being beautiful. This coinage of death is fundamental in living with the standards of a true war story. Consequently, a soldier’s duty to protect people through confrontation in response to external aggression is a respectable profession. However, the situation that befalls Krebs in the “Soldier’s Home” through having the need to find some other form of employment shows that war is not a form of regarded profession. This is also an exaggeration depicting a fairy tale, where the expectations of the war veteran are dwindled by the same society he was fighting for. This also shows that in telling a true war story, one has to go beyond the unbearable parts which might be true, while the restriction of being bound to the normal parts of the story might not depict truth. This implies that in most true war stories, concealing of the truth through depiction of only the normal parts might not correlate well with the meaning. Moreover, coinage of death as beauty shows that the fighters are inured to such consequences of war like death.

In conclusion, the common elements that are depicted in the character formation in “Soldier’s Home” and “How to Tell a True War Story” lie in the lack of honesty in the real participants of the war, especially the society that forms the origin of soldiers. In both cases, the society seems betrayed to the plight of he fighters revealing that it does not uphold the mandate of honesty in the selflessness of soldiers to provide protection against external aggression. On the other hand, the revelation that a true war story conceals the normal truths and reveals the unbearable parts that are true shows that the best true war stories are born out of fairy tales. The reader is construed into believing that what happens in the story is the truth, while one cannot help but keep contemplating on the possibility of the unbearable elements. This also shows that exaggerations could help one to get the true picture of the settings of the battlefield even if one does not bear a physical appearance. It helps one to understand the nature of war.

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