Krebs went to the war in 1917 from a Methodist college in Kansas. There is a picture of him with his fraternity brothers all in the same collar. He came back from the war in 1919, after he had been in the Rhine. There, a picture was taken of him, a fellow corporal, and two German ladies. When Krebs returns, no one celebrates. He comes back after most everyone else, so he misses the hysteria. He also cannot get anyone to listen to his stories. Everyone has heard too many gruesome stories to care. To get people to listen, he has lied twice. But he is disgusted by that so he has stopped talking about the war. Even his lies bore people, anyway.
During this time, Krebs is sleeping late and hanging around all day. He is a hero to his younger sisters and to his mother. She sometimes asks about the war, but she gets bored. The town has not changed in his absence except that some of the girls have become women. Krebs likes to watch them, but he does not want to be a part of their lives. He does not want to get involved in the politics or the lying involved in a courtship. Krebs does not want any consequences. The army had taught him that he did not need a girl, even though many men claimed that they could not live without one. Krebs likes the looks of the girls, but does not want to have to talk. That was one nice thing about the French and German girls: not so much talking. Krebs had not wanted to come home, but he had. Now, he watches girls walk by and thinks that they are made out of a nice pattern. He starts reading a book about the war, about all of the battles he was in. He is finally learning about the war.
Krebs' mother tells him that he can take the car out at night. Krebs goes downstairs for breakfast and starts to read the paper. His mother tells him not to muss it. His sister, Helen Krebs, tells him that she will be pitching in an indoor baseball game that day. She asks if he'll come. Their mother shoos her away and tells Krebs that he should think about finding a job. She tells him that she prays for him and the temptations that he must have faced. But, she says, he must find a job. After all, she says, the other boys his age are getting jobs and wives. She asks if he loves her. He says no, meaning that he cannot love anyone. She is only hurt, so Krebs tells her that he did not mean it. Krebs tells her that he will try to be good. She asks him to kneel with her and pray. She prays, but he cannot. He leaves, thinking that he will get a job in Kansas City and get out of the house without too many more confrontations. He only wants to have his life go smoothly, which it is not. He goes to watch Helen play baseball.
This story, the first about Krebs, attempts to reveal the profundity of the shock of re-entry into one's old life. Krebs wants everything to be simple. The world seems so complex. Young women look modern and everyone is involved in political relationships with everyone else. Krebs wants a simple life where he can relax and avoid talking (and lying) about the war. Krebs also seems truly incapable of complexity. He feels that he cannot love anymore and that he cannot pray. Krebs's soul has been removed by the war. Now, the most interesting book is one about the war that can explain what he was doing. He wishes that the book had more maps because he wants to pinpoint his experiences. Metaphorically, Krebs also wants guidance to understand his war experience.
Sparknotes' commentary for On the Quai at Smyrna seems to have quite a few historical errors. The commentary states that the narrator is likely talking about the Greek evacuation of Thrace, but the title is On the Quai at Smyrna. Smyrna is a city in modern-day Turkey (now called Izmir). The Christian (mainly Greek and Armenian) part of Smyrna was burned in 1922 after the Turks recaptured the city from the Greeks. Hemingway was actually in Turkey just after the Great Fire to cover the Greco-Turkish War as a correspondent for the Toronto Star.... Read more→
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I think it is difficult to talk about this short story without acknowledging the use of literary minimalism. Several pieces of information are left out of the text but most readers come to the conclusion that Mrs. Elliot is a lesbian. Her marriage to Hubert is one of convenience, and her desire to have a baby is, arguably, to prove that she is not Lesbian (or just so that she can live in the current society without being judged).