In the story, “Soldier’s Home,” by Ernest Hemingway, Harold, the protagonist, is faced with a conflict which is both self-inflicted and brought upon by circumstances of life. The nature of the conflict is simple: Harold’s inability to adjust to post-war life. Although the protagonist attempts to deal with this conflict, it is evident that he is not trying very hard. In the end, the protagonist is forced to cope with reality and to face the conflict, a conflict that proves beneficial to the protagonist.
Initially, the returning veteran Harold is introduced to the reader in a pitiful mood. The story reads: “By the time Krebs [Harold] returned to his home town in Oklahoma the greeting of heroes was over.” Evidently, Harold is frustrated because he had not gotten to partake in the admiration enjoyed by the soldiers that had returned as soon as the war was over. Because of the outcome of the war, many Americans came to view the war with disgust and did not mind to talk about it anymore. Moreover, the United States was entering a new era, the Roaring Twenties, which would come to be characterized by the abandonment of foreign ideas and involvements and the attention paid to everything American. All of these behaviors came just years after President Woodrow Wilson had pronounced that “the world must be made safe for democracy,” and the American troops had been proclaimed “liberators.” Therefore, Harold feels let down, perhaps even betrayed, by the country that sent him to what could have been his death. Harold comes to believe that he is still owed for the sacrifice he has made, but he does not know neither who or what owes him nor what he is owed, an uncertainty which helps trigger the conflict.
Consequently, Harold begins to remember his days in Europe and hopes that he could still be there, a clear sign that Harold does not want to accept reality. Europe, Harold believes, had offered him everything he wanted. However, this view is not correct. What Harold really misses is the pampering and the good life he had enjoyed in the army. A soldier, because of the tremendous sacrifice that is asked of him, is treated very well, especially when he or she is on the winning side. Harold received food, clothing, and shelter from the army. Also, Harold enjoyed the status given to him as a soldier. People respected him and girls were very interested in him. When Harold is back home, he admires the girls of his town. Yet, he does not try to engage any of them because he says it takes too much work. In reality, Harold has just become accustomed to having everything without much effort, including women. Harold’s feelings are perfectly described when the story says: “That was the thing about French girls and German girls. There was not all this talking. You couldn’t talk much and you did not need to talk. He thought about France and then he began to think about Germany…He did not want to leave Germany. He did not want to come home. Still, he had come home.” By attempting to live a fantasy, Harold is demonstrating just how out of touch with reality he really is.
Nevertheless, the major element of the nature of the conflict in this story is not related to the war or to Harold’s service; instead, it is the stage that Harold is going through in his life that is making living so hard for him. In essence, Harold is becoming adjusted to being a man, a transition which occurred abruptly during the war. This transition would have been a lot smoother if Harold had stayed home. However, he goes to war as a teenager with no responsibilities and comes back home considered a man. Poor Harold is left without any guidance, and he is expected to engage in the responsibilities of adulthood. Such difficult and abrupt transition conducts Harold into a state of detachment from any responsibilities. It is not until his mother confronts him that Harold is obligated to come back to reality and to face the fact that he is an adult now and that he has to take care of himself. His mother tells him: “…you have lost your ambition, that you haven’t got a definite aim in life.” Eventually, Harold accepts responsibility, though not willingly, and embarks on a new phase of his life.
In conclusion, the nature of the conflict in this story stems from Harold himself and from the situation he has experienced. Harold’s sense of betrayal by his country and people and his disregard to responsibility can be somewhat attributed to the fact that Harold is a returning veteran. Feeling out of place, he’s shell-shocked and enters an almost trance-like state. However, it is the stage through which Harold is going through which has the greatest impact on the conflict in this story. Although the conflict is resolved in the end of the story, the elements that caused it to develop are not.