The Return of the Soldier


Rebecca West

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Themes and Colors
Nostalgia, Escapism, and Reality Theme Icon
Social Class, Beauty, and Humanity Theme Icon
Women’s Roles Theme Icon
The Traumas of Modernity Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Return of the Soldier, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Nostalgia, Escapism, and Reality

Rebecca West’s novella The Return of the Soldier is set during one of the bloodiest phases of World War I, the spring of 1916. English soldier Chris Baldry is suffering from amnesia caused by “shell-shock” (psychological disturbance caused by the trauma of warfare) and he remembers nothing more recent than 15 years ago, in 1901. When he returns to his country estate to recover, he cannot even remember his wife, Kitty, and…

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Social Class, Beauty, and Humanity

The Return of the Soldier pointedly contrasts wealthy, beautiful Kitty (the wife of Chris, a World War I soldier) and impoverished, ugly Margaret (Chris’s girlfriend from 15 years ago) through the eyes of Jenny, who is Chris’s cousin and the narrator. At first, Margaret’s appearance and mannerisms are described in almost dehumanizing terms, and her lower-class home environment is distasteful compared to Kitty’s gracious, cultivated Baldry Court. These details lead the reader to…

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Women’s Roles

While Rebecca West’s novella revolves around a soldier’s homecoming, the story is told from a woman’s perspective, and the story’s central figures are, arguably, all women. Though men bear difficult burdens in the public realm—whether going to war or struggling to provide for their households—women, like Jenny, Kitty, and Margaret, also bear heavy, albeit largely private, burdens of supporting their men’s happiness and even protecting them from harm to their souls and…

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The Traumas of Modernity

After learning that Chris has suffered shell-shock on World War I’s Western Front, Jenny wonders, “Why had modern life brought forth these horrors that make the old tragedies seem no more than nursery shows?” Rebecca West explores this question in various ways throughout The Return of the Soldier, identifying manifold “horrors” that impact the natural world, the individual psyche, and society at large. While the immediate culprit for human suffering is World War I…

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