Hemingway’s short stories, Soldier’s Home and Big Two-hearted Rivers are epic works of literature that best illustrate modernity. Aspects of sophisticated poetry, subjectivity, and detachment from social structures will be explored through the examination of these two short stories. It is clear that in both novels, war is fundamental to the main characters’ perspectives and serves as a solid foundation for unveiling modernism.
Soldier’s Home is a short story told by Krebs, a young man who leaves his home to enlist in the First World War and then returns. His experiences in the war change his ideologies so much that when he returns to society, he does not seem fit in it. His parents and family have no understanding of him and won’t grasp the reality of the metamorphosis that has occurred. As such, he chooses to live his individualized life and not to share his war experiences. In some instances, he lies as a way of trying to coexist and fit back to the society. Notably, the person Krebs is before, during and after the war exhibits significant changes and differences.
Following Krebs return from the way, his interest and ambition in life seem to wane off. His life’s desire is to get back to normalcy and smooth progression, but he does not put effort into anything. He realizes that the girls he left had then grown up to women, but he does not pursue them since he had changed to realize that they are not worth his effort are complicated beings (Petrarca p.665). Krebs chooses to seat on the porch just to observe them walk away from a distance and not utter a word. He is detached from them and desires them to be outside his social circle of interaction, and he states that he dislikes seeing them in the ice cream parlor interactive session. Hemingway notes,
the world they were in was not the world he was in … they lived in such a complicated world of already de-fined alliances and shifting feuds that Krebs did not feel the energy or the courage to break into it (p. 210)
It is the wars that disillusioned his perception of women, and he does not seem capable of overcoming the new worldview he had adopted.
Additionally, Krebs appears peculiar to his parents especially to his mother because he is not interested in pursuing any career path. Her mother does not understand the inner battle and frustration that Krebs is going through as he tries to adjust and attempts to assist her son. She suggests that God has work for everyone in His kingdom including Krebs’s. Shockingly, Krebs responds by asserting that he was not in God’s kingdom. Such blatant statement to his mother adds his sense of purposelessness in his character. The mother proceeds to ask him whether he loved her and is blatant again suggesting that he does not love her. In fact, he adds he does not love anyone. Later Krebs confesses to the mother that he loved her and stated that the prevailing circumstances of their earlier discourse made him declare his dislike for the mother. This hatred would be emanating from the fact that the mother is mounting too much pressure to Krebs suggesting the need to conform to social constructs and live his life like any other person. From Krebs new life, the only person he seems to show affection is the young sister who looks up to him as a perfect example. This little girl exhibits innocence and sincerity and thus on the right pages of Krebs as opposed to the mother who never appreciated ad regarded Krebs effort. The difference between his individual life and that of the society depicts how much the gap between him and the other had widened, creating a situational irony. While other, like the mother feared something was wrong, Krebs felt content and had formed his ideals different from the societal. This paradox, is also depicted in Hemingway’s life who during his last few days wrote to a sick son of a friend suggesting that he was very cheerful and happy about life in general (Lindsay p.454). However, the next thing that happened was him committing suicide which, in a typical set up occurs in lives of those who are not happy. It is possible that Hemingway, like his character Krebs, had become disillusioned about life and created their own worldview and its interpretation different from others.
Krebs perception of life is marked with disillusionment depicting the modernist ideology that there are no absolutes and each person can create their own experiences uniquely and differently. For instance, Krebs claims that he loved his life in the war in German and he did not want to return home. Such a statement goes against the conventional ideology that America is a great nation of happiness and freedom and compared to all other parts it is the best place to live. It is possible that the claim is a reflection of Hemingway experience in the United States. Krebs illustrates this claim by using the girls symbolically stating that found great delight in looking at the girls in America as they seemed better off than those in French or Germany. However, the world of the girls and his world were separated by a chasm such that none would interact with the other. The symbolism would further illustrate the reality of the American situation that looks incredibly awesome and admirable at face value but in reality less substantive and lost in complexities.
Returning from war breaks Krebs experiences in the wars since the residents of his home have created their views about war and any soldier returning is forced to affirm these ideologies of war and horror instead of narrating his individual and actual experiences. People’s disinterest about the war led these individuals to resist Krebs stories. In fact, most of his acquaintances were not thrilled by his involvement in the war since they were against what they had always heard and believed. For instance, the common belief was that Americans would chain German women on machine guns, but when Krebs would not assert their common belief, they express discontent and found his stories, not the best. This heightened his frustrations. The Americans in Hemingway’s Soldier’s Home have a subjective view of their nation as the conqueror and the savior and not the defeated victim something that Krebs knew would not be real.
Big Two-Hearted River is an epic piece that elaborates modernism throughout the text because of the uniqueness of the book the reality of war and the therapeutic aspect of nature is presented through the character of Nick.
Modernism is prevalent throughout the short story as Hemingway presents outlines of occurrences leaving the reader to make implicit meaning of the situation. The novel offers a glimpse into a situation, and the interpretation is left to the reader. For example, the wound that Nick suffered remains unnamed. Also, this young man does all that is within his control to make sure he does not get out of his mind but manages the situation successfully. For example, despite the significant suffering and difficulty that Nick experienced, he found tranquility, rebirth, and peace through nature. In Big Two-Hearted River, Nick leaves the burned down town and trails to the wood and remains unharmed by the fire. His pursuit of regeneration from the river is two-fold and thus referred to as two hearted. This river, apart from providing redemption it offers food in the form of fish. Nature also provides comfort that is unique since it is in the chapel like trees that Nick first finds quality sleep from the war experience. The next day, the experience proves different since the fishing is not as easy as the river produces strong and frightening currents that leaves Nick in an awkward position trying to control himself. The meadow with the dew is also an excellent place for sustenance since food is availed by the wet and brown grasshoppers that he catches before the sun rises and they hope away.
Modernism is The Two big-hearted river is also evident in the style of writing that Hemingway used throughout the book especially saying so much with the least. The supporting facts behind the claims that Hemingway makes like symbolism and irony are out of sight. This style of omitting some concepts and allowing the reader to mutter and engage with the content is incredible in this text. Hemingway, also offer some excellent details on some encounters in the novel that may seem trivial. For instance, the elaborate account of Nick catching and losing a big trout, brewing coffee or gathering grasshoppers. Nonetheless, such eventful moment makes Nick betray his inner conversations, such that he takes a break. Notably, although Hemingway provided enough details regarding the fishing trip and the experiences, the motivating factors to such a trip are just alluded. The reader could be able to find the implication that Nick went to seek solace because of the emotional turmoil following the traumatic event.
Additionally, in the two big-hearted river, difficult art that is utilized in the text offers a remarkable illustration of modernism. Beall (p. 63) asserts that Paul Cezzane’s artistic work had great significance in Hemingway’s writing and The two big-hearted details that profoundly. In that regard, the novel appears to have a comprehensive foreground and a vague background that offers the substratum. For instance, the description of the countryside and that of the river are highly artistic. The description of the hill that Nick climbs is non-existent since no mountains exist in Michigan and Hemingway suggestion of Nick seeing dead fish floating on the pools is a remembrance his experience of seeing corpses that were floating on canals during the war as Adair (p.584) affirms. The details of the landscape in the two big-hearted river do not offer enough information to know where they would be found geographically. Additionally, Hemingway states that ‘we sense trees vertical forms and dark colors alone’ alluding to space, form, and light in the particular environment. Since the novel would not be written in paint and brushes, Hemingway chooses to use symbolism as the substitute. It is also notable that the camping site is well illustrated presenting a landscape that is visual and connected with spatiality while the menace swamp is just mentioned in passing. The river seems central in this visual painting since it changes throughout the book sometimes being shallow and other times being deep, different times slow and others fast. The river is central to this art. Hemingway states,
In the swamp the banks were bare, the big cedars came together overhead, the sun did not come through, except in patches; in the fast deep water in the half-light, the fishing would be tragic … Nick did not want it (p.60)
Nick is also presented as a piece of art since in some situations his activities are well illustrated while in others he is not, therefore, going against the usual plot and character descriptions in other forms of literature.
In conclusion, by a close reading of The two big-hearted river and Soldiers home, it is evident that Hemingway was a modernist. He utilized complex arts in the descriptions, and his major characters seem removed from the social constructs following their war experiences. For example, Krebs in Soldiers Home, following his return he does not fit in the society he left and is shocked that the girls remained unchanged by the war. In The two big-hearted river, art is central in depicting modernism and even Nick, the main character is seen as a piece of art.
Adair, William. “Big Two-Hearted River”: Why the Swamp Is Tragic.” Journal of Modern Literature 17.4 (1991): 584-588.
Beall, John. “Hemingway’s Formation of In Our Time.” The Hemingway Review 35.1 (2015): 63-77.
Lindsay, Creighton. “HEMINGWAYS NEXUS OF PASTORAL AND TRAGEDY.” CLA Journal (2000): 454-478.
Petrarca, Anthony J. “Irony of Situation in Ernest Hemingway’s” Soldier’s Home.”” The English Journal 58.5 (1969): 664-667.