Ernest Hemingway: “Big Two Hearted River”, “Soldier’s Home” and “A Clean Well-Lighted Place”

Subject: Literature
Pages: 6
Words: 1829
Reading time:
7 min
Study level: College

In the story, A Soldier’s Home, Krebs a soldier returns home from war. He was in the war from 1917 to 1919. Soldiers who return from war find it hard to adjust to normal life again and this is exactly what Krebs is going through. He was picked to join the war while in college and his life changed forever. Krebs would want to date women but “he did not want any consequences. He did not want any consequences ever again. He wanted to live along without consequences” (Hemmingway, The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway 113).

He did not want to return home and this shows the dilemma that many war veterans find themselves in after serving in the military and probably being injured. They are no longer the same and they may have the fear of returning home, as they are not sure of how their lives will be. Krebs’ return does not cause anyone to celebrate because he returns after everyone one else has and thus the hysteria for war veterans has died down He wants to tell people stories about the war but nobody wants to give him an ear. The war has traumatized him. He wants people to listen to him. This makes him lie to have their attention. However, this does not make him feel good and he decides to stop talking about the war. This is because “a distaste for everything that had happened to him in the war set in because of the lies he had told” (Hemingway, The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway 111). He also hates the fact that he is forced to lie to captures people’s attention because his parents raised him in a strict religious way. The war has made him lose his soul and he must find it again. He does all this as he tries to re-enter a life he hand abandoned for some years and he finds it is not easy to go back to his old life. In the war Krebs has to do what soldiers do and thus in his line of duty he had to kill enemy troops to avoid being killed. He also watched his colleagues die in the war and this experience scared him emotionally. He also abandoned his faith, lived a carefree life. He becomes promiscuous and drinks heavily to try to mask the pain he feels. However, these things only make the pain disappears temporarily and when he is sober he realizes the pain is still there.

To overcome this pain he dated many women but the relationships did not help him to forget his past. He goes back to his family and he finds that they have expectations that he cannot meet. His father is unforgiving and asks him to look for employment like his fellow service men that have come back and turned a new leaf in their lives. Just like any other person who has lost their way, Krebs tries to find God with the help of his mother. This is not easy for him and he is unable to pray. He has lost faith in God because as he tells his mother that God’s hand was not in the war. His belief in the normal things in the society has been shaken. This is regardless of things remaining the same in his home after the war. Krebs assimilation back into the society will never be possible because he does not have the strength from within himself. Nobody understands his traumatic experience of the war and thus on one can help him to overcome the pain. He returns home yet he does not feel at home and he has to go away and find peace alone because his word was changed by the war experience. He will never be the boy his mother knew he joined the war.

In the story Big Two-Hearted River part 1 we meet Nick a war veteran who has just returned home. When he gets home, he realizes that everything has changed. All things are burnt and the place is abandoned. The state that he finds his home in shows us how the war veterans return home with feelings of hopelessness after having given the better part of their lives in war. This is because after they have been to war everything changes and things are never the same again. The war takes toil on them as they live in danger and constant fear of death at any time in case their enemies strike. They see the horrors of war as people die and some lose their limbs. They witness children and women suffering and this experience remains with them forever. Some see their fellow combatants dying in the war and yet they have to keep on being strong to accomplish the mission for the war. Nick has gone through a similar experience and he returns home to a cold and desolate place. He was injured in the war and he has no one to welcome him home. Thus, he has no choice but to be on his own and try to make the best of his life. Nick chooses to go back to his childhood favorite activities of camping and fishing. No one understands what he has gone through and so he has to try to cope with it by himself. Camping gives him an opportunity to do so and we can see that he is willing to leave behind the life of civilization that has brought him suffering and live a simple life in the woods. “He felt happy he had left everything behind” (Hemingway and Lyons 4). From Nick’s thoughts” we can see that he is traumatized because of the war. He builds himself a tent and “he was happy” with the result (Hemingway and Lyons 9). He is happy that he is able to do something for himself without taking orders from anyone, as was the case during the war. The tent, bed and the food that Nick makes for himself shows that he going to find himself and escape from his darkness.

In part two, he goes fishing and he hopes to regain his former self by enjoying the fishing experience. He hopes that nature will help him to forget his past, which is troubled. In the river, Nick fights with a kingfisher. This action will renew Nick’s life by conquering the kingfish. This fight is not violent and thus he can get over He does not need anyone and we see him thinking about how much he hates fishing with other fishermen as they ruin the experience. He must escape from his past on his own. He goes fishing and he gathers everything he needs for fishing. He collects grasshoppers and he notices they are not black as the ones he had seen on his way. As the story ends, Nick seems to be recovering and he is willing to face the dark memories symbolized by the swamp. He says the swamp is dangerous yet it contains the best trout and so he must face it to overcome his past. there is hope that Nick will recover because he ends up saying “There were plenty of days coming when he could fish the swamp” (Hemingway and Lyons 24).

In A clean Well-Lighted Place it is not confirmed if the old man is actually deaf, maybe he just led people on to believe that so he would not have meaningless conversations. He probably wants to separate himself from the society. The old man is desperate his life is nearing its end yet he has nothing to show. He goes out in the darkness as the night brings calmness to the mind, quiets the chatter, the memories. People with mental baggage tend to drink to forget and do not go home until it is time to sleep. Better than laying awake and remembering all the things that once mattered. When you lose everything, you loved it takes the color from your life. The simplest thing as seeing leaves on the ground or watching a couple holding hands makes you relive the past and reminds you the present has no meaning. You lost yourself a long time ago and you will never be that person again. People who still have reasons to live, who still can dream and are able to sleep at night with out being tormented will never understand. Easier to get out of your mind when surrounded by people than when alone with no distractions. Nothing matters anymore and nothing will change that. Especially when you have taken life seen, people give up the fight to live. Death has to be better than constant pain, and maybe then and only then the memories will stop. The old man has a death wish and he had even tried to commit suicide but his niece rescues him by cutting the noose. His life is empty, he sees nothing good about living, and he wishes for rest. Sometimes life is full of disillusionment and no one can tell you otherwise, so what is the point in listening to him or her.

The old man goes to a café that is well lighted and the “the tables were empty except where the old man sat in the shadow of the leaves of the tree that moved slightly in the wind” (Hemingway, A clean Well-Lighted Place 1). Perhaps the old man chooses to sit under the tree to hide from the light that would show his age. People tend to hide their real age and any weaknesses in their bodies. The old man’s body is weak and dark. He knows that people may not like him because he looks frail. In fact, the younger waiter at the bar says he “I wouldn’t want to be that old. An old man is a nasty thing” (Hemingway, A clean Well-Lighted Place 1). A young man feels good because of the strength in their body and they may even forget that some day they too will become old. The young waiter is a good example of the young people who despise the old. The old man may be aware of the discrimination against the old people in his society and therefore choose not to listen to the conversation between the two waiters.

The old man and the old waiter have the problem of insomnia and the old waiter is not in a hurry to close the café because he has no one to go home to and he would rather leave the bar late than go home to sleep in darkness. From this, we learn that people have many problems and will try to look for solace wherever they can find it, for the two men they find it in the café. If people fail to get solace in their lives to fill up the nothingness they feel, they may result to suicide, which seems as the best last resort.

Works Cited

Hemingway, Ernest. The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998.

Hemingway, Ernest. A Clean, Well-Lighted Place. n.d. Web.

Hemingway, Ernest and Lyons, Nick. Hemingway on Fishing. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2002.