While artistic license was applied to the film version of Soldier’s Home, the variances to the short story are relatively miniscule as scenes added to the movie were done so in order to apply perspective and depth in areas as needed. Both provide a powerful narrative of the challenges faced by those returning from war as they attempt to reintegrate into the society left behind. Krebs’ growing disassociation and aversion to those around him are detailed by his actions and reactions throughout both, while in the movie it is vividly apparent that he is trying to reconcile himself from the horrors faced during the war. This disassociation is compounded by the society presented through daily life in a small town where everyone knows each other and everyone feels the compulsion to mention his service while not having the capacity to recognize his internal struggle.
Hemingway provided insight into the disassociation felt by those returning from war. The accepted belief was the disassociation was caused, in part, by the impact of the shells exploding around the soldiers in the battle zone, resulting in shell shock. As it became apparent that those who served other capacities in the war and were not in battle zones exhibited similar characteristics, the condition became associated with weakness and cowardice. Certain scholars disagreed with this evaluation. As these scholars believed that this condition was not physical, the phrases “war strain” and “war neurosis” emerged, yet the perception of weakness remained. This determination was eventually incorporated into the concept of PTSD, which, in turn, advanced treatment for this condition (World War I, n.d.).
The criteria for PTSD as provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) (n.d.) lists the following for diagnosis:
The presence of a stressor which consists of direct or indirect exposure to death or serious injury, the threat of death, serious injury, or sexual violence.
Intrusion symptoms, which may include involuntary memories, traumatic nightmares, dissociative reactions, such as flashbacks, prolonged or intense distress following traumatic reminders, and physiologic reactivity.
The avoidance of internal thoughts or feelings or external reminders, including conversations, people, and places, of trauma related stimuli.
Cognitions and moods are negatively altered and marked by dissociative amnesia, persistent negative beliefs about oneself or the world, blaming oneself or others for the event or consequences, persistent feelings of shame, guilt, anger, horror, or feel, diminished interest in activities that were once enjoyed, alienation, and unable to experience positive emotions.
Increased anxiety, as indicated by irritability or aggression, self-destructiveness, hypervigilance, exaggerated responses, unable to concentrate, and disturbances in the normal sleep pattern.
These symptoms must be present for at least one month.
These symptoms cause a significant variation in distress or functional impairment.
These issues are not caused by medication, substance abuse, or other illnesses.
Based on the criteria above, Krebs displayed strong symptoms indicative of PTSD. Throughout the movies, various scenes provided insight into the internal struggles he encountered. One scene showed Krebs walking around town shows an attempt to reintegrate with the society he had left behind, while others demonstrated attempts at conversations with others who tried to focus on the events of the war as he struggled to escape the situation and from the memories. Two other scenes in the movie that are not in the book address Krebs’ interactions with women. The first occurs as he reminisces a time of happiness with a woman while viewing a photograph. The photograph is mentioned in the story, but the experiences with the woman are not. The second occurs during a sequence of events when Krebs accompanies a friend who had been wounded in the war to a dance. During the dance, Krebs became a little too forward with a young lady he had known prior to going into battle resulting in her rebuffing his advances. Following the dance, he and the friend sat in his father’s car, drinking cognac the friend provided. During the course of conversation, the friend mentioned always being afraid during the war and that he drank to get away from it. Krebs denounced the sensation of being afraid while in combat and a confrontation ensued (Soldier’s Home, 1977). The incident with the young lady at the dance is representative of functional impairment. The second indicates an increase in self-destructive behaviors. Scenes throughout both the movie and the book involving interactions with family members, primarily Krebs’ mother, indicate increasing signs of withdrawal, avoidance, dissociative reactions, and increased anxiety. The interactions between Krebs and his mother are demonstrative of her desire to make everything better for him in attempts to compel him to return to the life he knew before going to war as he demonstrated that his concepts of normalcy had been adversely altered.
The use of alcohol by members of the military is well documents with 15 to 20 percent of service members reported, in a large-scale survey, imbibing heavily and frequently between 1980 and 2005. Twelve to 15 percent of 88,205 service members deployed to Iraq screened positive for alcohol dependency. Binge drinking among those with exposure to combat registered at 53 percent of recently deployed personnel. The use of prescription medications, primarily opioids, is indicative of addiction with 11.1 percent of 28,546 individuals reporting misuse in 2008. These indications of substance abuse are reflecting within the population of veterans. Even though data is limited concerning the use of illegal substances within the Armed Forces, use has declined since 1980 when one large-scale survey indicated this was a common practice. The service members who experienced an elevated rate of discharge for alcohol or drug use were those with mild to moderate traumatic brain injury (TBI). This group also had higher rates of PTSD and reports of pain (Saxon, 2011).
Both versions of the story reflect the prevalent attitude that by allowing the stressors of war to negatively impact those in war situations is symbolic of weakness. The atrocities and horrors of war actually require strength to not necessarily overcome, but find effective coping mechanisms in order to effectively reintegrate into society. The stigma associated to these issues deserve the attention Hemingway afforded them in an attempt to enlighten society in these areas to provide the necessary emotional support to conquer the demons that accompanied them home.
In the end of both versions, Krebs leaves home in an effort to make everything right. This leads one to wonder if he was trying to make everything right or if it was a misguided attempt to run away from the issues that continued to torment him. Hemingway’s experiences during World War I was not as a soldier, but as an ambulance driver who was seriously injured during a mortar attack (The Hemingway Resource Center, n.d.), provided the basis for him to effectively provide clarity on a mostly unspoken aspect of how war is hell, one from which follows many as they return home and from which many never escape.
Even though Soldier’s Home details the return of a soldier from World War I, these issues remain pervasive almost a century later.
History of PTSD. World War I. (n.d.). Web. 20 April 2015.
PTSD: National Center for PTSD. “DSM-5 Criteria for PTSD”. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (n.d.). Web. 20 April 2015.
Saxon, Andrew J. “Returning Veterans With Addictions”. Psychiatric Times. 2011 July 14. Web. 2015 March 26.
Soldier’s Home. Dir. Robert Young. Perf. Richard Bachus, Lane Binkley, Lisa Essary, Henry Fonda, Mark Hall, Robert Hitt, Tom Kubiak, Mark La Mura, Nancy Marchand, Mark McIlwaine, Robert Nichols, Phil Oxnam, and Bryan Utman. Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), 1977. Film.
The Hemingway Resource Center. “Ernest Hemingway Biography>World War I. (n.d.). Web. 20 April 2015.