The family motor car in “Soldier’s Home” symbolizes ambition and direction. At the time of the story’s setting, automobiles were major symbols of status and wealth. In fact, Krebs’s father uses the car to take out his clients, and parks it in front of the National Bank Building in which his office is located—both actions that underscore the car’s association with social status. The fact that before going to war, Krebs was not allowed to take the car out further establishes driving as a desirable privilege. This also suggests that, at one point in his life, Krebs had desires—notably ones tied to a distinct symbol of American success and self-directed freedom.
Following Krebs’s return, his mother tells Krebs that his father and she have agreed to let him drive the car, so that he can go out and take “the nice girls out riding with” him. The reference to the car here serves to highlight the dramatic shift in Krebs’s apathy following the war. Where Krebs once actively sought to take charge of such a powerful marker of status, his mother now must desperately coax Krebs to use the car—that is, to get out of the house, to take direction of his own life and start working, to enter back into the American system. Though the narrator notes that the car had not changed—“it was still the same car”—the idea of the car importantly has. Instead of representing a promise of mobility, now it exposes Krebs’s sense of paralysis.
The Car Quotes in Soldier’s Home
“Your father does not want to hamper your freedom. He thinks you should be allowed to drive the car. If you want to take some of the nice girls out riding with you, we are only too pleased.”