The idea of lying recurs several times throughout “Soldier’s Home,” and holds a central place in the story. While there are many hints that the trauma of war has profoundly impacted Krebs and that his apathy, disaffection, and loss of a sense of self upon returning home stems from PTSD, the story more explicitly locates Krebs’ issues as stemming from the fact that, upon returning home, “to be listened to at all [about his experiences in the war] he had to lie and after he had done this twice he, too, had a reaction against the war and against talking about it.” While it might seem extreme to attribute such a loss of self to some essentially white lies, that provides all the more reason to investigate how lies function in the mind of Krebs and within the story.
The concept of lying first appears near the beginning of the story, when the narrator comments that, after returning home from the war, Krebs twice exaggerated his stories by saying that minor things that had happened to other soldiers had in fact happened to him. Afterward, the narrator says, “A distaste for everything that had happened to him in the war set in because of the lies he had told. All of the times that had been able to make him feel cool and clear inside himself when he thought of them; the times so long back when he had done the one thing, the only thing for a man to do, easily and naturally, when he might have done something else, now lost their cool, valuable quality and then were lost themselves.” In other words, the narrator is saying that, by lying about his past, Krebs has essentially poisoned his connection to the times in his life when he acted nobly, honorably, and like a man. And in poisoning that connection, he has lost that aspect of his self, which was the only aspect that mattered. The implication here is that lying is a dire, dreadful act that is so unbecoming of a man that it, in fact, destroys one’s ability to continue to be a man.
The second, third, and fourth time that lying appears in the story also relate to gender, but rather than dealing solely with men, they deal with men in relation to women. First, the narrator notes that while Krebs wouldn’t mind “having a girl,” he is uninterested in actually courting a girl because “he did not want to tell any more lies.” That thought leads to Krebs’s revelation in the army that both men who pretended that “girls mean nothing to them” and men who claimed that they “had to have them all the time” were lying, and that in fact “he did not really need a girl.” The fourth time occurs at the very end of the story, when Krebs’ mother asks him if he loves her. Though Krebs first responds that he doesn’t love anyone, when his mother begins to cry he says that he didn’t mean it and that he does in fact love her. He later thinks, resentfully, “He had felt sorry for his mother and she had made him lie.”
In each of these three instances, a man lies because of a woman. First, Krebs believes that the only way to “court” a girl is to lie to her. This doesn’t necessarily mean a big lie, but rather that courting involves some kind of misrepresentation of one’s thoughts or feelings in order to keep a woman happy and interested. Second, Krebs believes that men lie to each other about women in order to display their own power and manhood—that they are at once independent enough to not need women, and so virile that they must have women. Third, Krebs believes that the obligations of family compel a man to lie to protect the feelings of the women around them, in this specific case the woman being his mother.
That Krebs seems to see women as usually motivating men’s lies offers some additional insight into his character because, throughout the story, Krebs also seems to see women—both his mother and the girls of the town—as forces dragging him back into a social world he no longer feel a part of—the world of getting a job, having a family, and so on. Krebs’ lies in his war stories were similarly influenced by society, in the sense that what motivated his lies was a desire to describe and connect with other people through his war stories, and he needed the lies in order to hold people’s attention. When seen in this light, it begins to seem clear that Krebs sees all social interactions—indeed all of society—as functioning only through the telling of lies, even if small ones, and he desperately desires not to be a part of it. As the narrator puts it: “He did not want to tell any more lies. It wasn’t worth it.”
The question then becomes, if telling these sorts of lies isn’t “worth it,” then what is it that Krebs perceives as the cost? The story doesn’t explicitly answer, but it gives a hint in Krebs’ thoughts immediately after he thinks lying isn’t worth it: “He did not want any consequences. He did not want any consequences ever again. He wanted to live along without consequences.” The triple repetition puts a special emphasis on “consequences,” such that the consequences to which Krebs is referring seem much more dire than merely, say, someone getting angry about a white lie. Instead, in a story about a soldier coming home from World War I—a war that was understood to have introduced a new level of brutality to warfare—the “consequences” seem likely to be the terrible death of the war. Further, the brutality of World War I was often seen as having destroyed the illusion of the ideals of a previous age—ideals of civility, chivalry, and even, to a degree, national pride that led so many young men to enlist in the war in the first place. The brutal nature of the war revealed those ideals to be lies that led to horrific death. In this way, Krebs’ desire to avoid lies, and his seeming suspicion that all society involves lies, can be seen as an outgrowth of his war-trauma, and a refusal to ever be complicit in or caught up by such deadly lies again.
Lies and Society ThemeTracker
Lies and Society Quotes in Soldier’s Home
“All of the times that had been able to make him feel cool and clear inside himself when he thought of them; the times so long back when he had done the one thing, the only thing for a man to do, easily and naturally, when he might have done something else, now lost their cool, valuable quality and then were lost themselves.”
“Krebs acquired the nausea in regard to experience that is the result of untruth or exaggeration…”
“He did not want to do any courting. He did not want to tell any more lies. It wasn’t worth it. He did not want any consequences. He did not want any consequences ever again. He wanted to live without consequences.”