Sodier's Home

Harold's mother, the grandmother, and Bartleby are selfish


In Ernest Hemingway's "Soldier's Home," Harold's mother
shows selfishness in that she refuses to understand his
changing behavior. Her son, Harold Krebs, is a young man who
is returning home from his tour of duty in France. The
overwhelming shock of his experiences at war molds Harold
into a different man. Harold wants to talk about how the war
has affected him. He is unable to tell his mother the
unvarnished truth about his battles because of the time
period in which they live. His mother has no concept of what
really happens in a war and this is evident when she says "I
know the temptations you must have been exposed to. I know
how weak men are. I pray for you all day long." She prays
for Harold so that he will be strong and fight off the
temptations of women. This is sickening to Harold, because
the desire of a woman is a minor fault compared to the
horrifying events that occur in the outbreak of war. Harold
cannot explain to his mother how the war affected him. He
betrays symptoms of his discontent with his behavior
hoping that she will make some kind of logical relation.
This drastic change in his behavior does not spark a
question of doubt in his mother's mind. The connection
between his recent return home and his changing behavior is
not made. Harold isolates himself from his family and his
community. He does not "want any consequences." The
psychological damage he receives from the war causes him to
act cold and emotionless. Harold's mother asks him, "Don't
you love your mother," and he replies, "no." His mothers
love for him is selfish because she refuses to acknowledge
the affect the war has on her son.
The grandmother in Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is
Hard to Find," is similar to Harold's mother. The
grandmother reveals her selfishness in that she persistently
tries to change her son's mind about where they will be
vacationing. The family is taking a trip to Florida. The
grandmother wants to go to Tennessee to "visit some of her
connections." Her selfishness induces her into boldly
telling a lie. She pretends that she is genuinely concerned
for her families safety when she tells Bailey about a
criminal being loose in Florida. Even though it appears that
she is concerned, her underlying motives are to change
Bailey's mind about vacationing in Florida. The grandmother
wants her way so badly that not only does she lie to her
son, but she tries to make him feel guilty and says, "I
wouldn't take my children in any direction with a criminal
like that aloose in it. I couldn't answer to my conscience
if I did." Her selfishness is present again when she lies
about her concern for her grandchildren. She protests that
the grandchildren "have been to Florida before, You ought to
take them somewhere else for a change so they would see
different parts of the world and be broad." She is not
worrying about her grandchildren's worldliness, she is only
trying to change her son's mind about the trip to Florida.
Another example of her selfishness is when she tells her
family about the man that she could have married. She tells
them that she "would have done well to marry Mr. Teagarden,"
because of his wealth. Not one time does she ever mention
that the marriage would be out of love for him. She only
mentions that he is "a very wealthy man." Her egotistic
personality is evident when the family encounters the
Misfit. The grandmother's only concern is for herself. She
does not worry about her family, she only tries to save
Like the other two characters, Bartleby, in Melville's
"Bartleby, the Scrivener," also has a selfish nature.
Bartleby is a copyists that works at a lawyers office. He
does not speak much, but thoroughly does his work. He is
secretive and gives vague replies to all questions. He works
diligently copying paper after paper. After only a short
period, he decides that he has "given up copying," without
any warning to his boss. Bartleby abruptly gives up copying
and all other work in the office. The narrator discovers
that Bartleby is living in the office, but does not make
Bartleby leave. Bartleby does not ask for permission to stay
in the office. He selfishly assumes that he can stay there
rent free. Even when the narrator tries to tell Bartleby
that he needs to quit, he replies, "I would prefer not to."
Bartleby is selfish