The effect of war on the human psyche. The story shows how wars significantly change a person’s psychological state. Krebs, the story’s protagonist, was dehumanized because of the trauma he experienced fighting as a Marine in the war. He reveals that he has been frightened all the time—soldiers are subjected to constant threat of physical danger, forcing them to live in fear every waking moment. In order to overcome this, they often disconnect with their feelings and suppress their emotions, and this often takes a huge toll on their mental well being.
Society’s attitude towards war. Krebs was the last to return home from the war, and by that time, the celebratory mood was long gone: he was not given a hero’s welcome. When Krebs felt the need to talk to someone about his war experiences, nobody wanted to listen. This shows the lack of understanding of society at large about the things those who have been to war have gone through.
Kreb’s mother as a symbol of motherly relations. In the story, Kreb’s mother seems to be disturbed by Kreb’s indifference to the word and acts out as how a mother would (in her view) in such situations. She constantly lectures Krebs and pressures him to get a job and conform to society’s idea of a well-adjusted man.
Word play to show the loss of humanity in the character. Krebs feels alienated from society and how he speaks reveals this sentiment. His speech lacks description and his narrative, strained. He also refers to himself by his last name (like they do in the army), suggesting that he still sees himself as a soldier rather than a part of society.
Contrasting imagery to show change in character. Hemingway tells of two pictures with Krebs in them: one that shows him as a university student with his fraternity brothers, wherein all of them sports the same kind of collar; the other, as a Marine with another soldier and two German girls. These two images show how Krebs identifies himself then and now—it implies that before he went off to war, Krebs fits in his community, but then when he came back, he was a changed man.