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Lies and Cover-up in “Soldier’s Home”

Untruths abound in Ernest Hemingway’s “Soldier’s Home,” a short story that glimpses into a soldier’s re-acclimation to American life following World War I.  At center is an individual, profoundly changed by experience, and his struggle to reintegrate into a seemingly unaffected society. Lies, at once both corrosive and comforting (for the individual and community respectively) serve to bridge the disconnect between the two. Published in 1925, six years later than its setting, “Soldier’s Home” is both a sobering reflection on the war’s effects and an indictment of the nation’s collective response in the years that followed.

Written at the height of the Roaring Twenties, a time by which those privileged enough were able to replace thoughts of war with whiskey (of the bootlegged variety), Hemingway’s narrative is aimed squarely at his contemporary reader. This was a reader who, in Hemingway’s estimates, could not have sooner opted for the escapes of a “mass-produced and consumed” culture over a serious contemplation of the century’s most cataclysmic event.[1] The disinterested small town populace in “Soldier’s Home” acts as Hemingway’s stand-in for the American public at large: easily bored, hungry for something “new,” with an “attention [that] always wandered.”[2]

While such charges are levied against a 1919 crowd in the story, they are more typical of the “Lost Generation’s” criticisms of the “shallow, anti-intellectual, and materialistic” tendencies they saw arise during the twenties.[3] Those tendencies, aided in large part by the increased prevalence of radio and film, resulted in a progressively homogenous and commercial American culture. This culture, much to the ire of the generation’s writers, Hemingway included, seemed to preach to the indulging of one’s “pleasure principle” (to borrow from Sigmund Freud, another of the era’s contemporaries), perhaps to excess. Keep Reading

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