Thursday, August 16, 2007

Alienation in Two Short Stories: Soldier’s Home and The Red Convertible

In the last century of horrible wars and combat operations that American soldiers have participated in for the defense of freedom and democracy, not a few stories of unimaginable carnage and death has been recorded by history books and even re-imagined by American literature. However, the best of these stories do not necessarily have to be written with the stark reality of blood, wounds and used riles, as some of these harrowing experiences had been described after the horrors were over. The two short stories, Soldier’s Home and The Red Convertible, tacitly yet fully depicted the devastating psychological and emotional issues that war inflicts on American soldiers, regardless of the theater of combat they are fighting in, especially when these proud and victorious soldiers came home to start a new life.

In Soldier’s Home, Krebs, more passionately called by his mother as Harold, returned a little too late to his town in Oklahoma, as the celebrations for the returning soldiers had already ended. In his return, he was a new man, but in a more negative sense, as he was alienated from his family and the other townspeople he interacted with, save for the fondness he shares with his sister. The townspeople disdained him as he lied so many times about his experience of the war, notwithstanding his exaggerated stories, to the extent that even those in the pool room, a traditionally expected gullible bunch of men, were doubtful of the accuracy of his tales. More so, Krebs also had trouble with girls in his town as he did not want to go through all the trouble of talking to them, perhaps even dating them. He even compared these girls to those he met in Europe, as he got away with European girls without the need of much talking. On the other hand, he was also being more isolated from his family as he continued on with his life unemployed and loveless, in sharp contrast to the other soldiers in their town who were advancing in their careers. His mother naively egged him to find a job, be ambitious and seek help from his father, which he rejected through his reluctance to pray with his mother and failing to follow her advice to visit his father before going to his sister’s baseball game.

In The Red Convertible, Lyman’s brother, Henry, just got home from the Vietnam War and was very different compared to before, as he was already very quiet, especially when watching television, and seemed very uneasy moving about the house, to the extent that their mother contemplated seeking medical help. Henry’s condition might have been caused by the traumas of war as he showed some irregular movements while watching television such as gripping the armrests as hard as he could as if he was moving at high speeds. On another instance, his lip was bloodied for accidental biting but paid not attention to such injury that Henry even shoved Lyman away as he was about to help his older brother. However, Henry’s alienation from his family and himself only ceased when Lyman deliberately destroyed their beloved red convertible which made Henry return, to a certain extent, to his old self – the cheerful and adventurous older brother, as they soon after rode out once more into a driving frenzy to places unknown.

In both short stories, it is clear that alienation resulted as a result of the wars they fought in, which manifested expressly as soon as they got to their own towns and families. However, while their alienations proved to be disturbing to the people around them, it did not preclude them from reaching out to the world in other ways possible, such as when Henry started opening up to Lyman as soon as the latter almost destroyed the car and when Krebs purposely defied his mother’s request to visit his father and instead walked on to his sister’s baseball game. While these stories tell a message of sadness and disillusionment that valiant soldiers who fought for the country sometimes lead miserable lives when they get back home, a message of hope is also present that their alienation will soon enough wither away.. It is hope not in the grand manner – but a hope that is tacit yet binding, hidden, but life-changing.

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