One might wonder what kind of correlation could possibly be drawn between Ernest Hemingway’s melodramatic “Soldier’s Home” and a seemingly simple story about a winged lion. One might even be surprised that this fable, “The Good Lion” was written by Hemingway’s own hand! Among the actions and reactions of the protagonists in these stories, there are some interesting comparing and contrasting opportunities. Some of these possibilities support that the Venice -born good lion is, in fact, the opposite of Krebs in travel experience but quite similar in the manner the experience is handled. It is all but deniable that this delightful story beginning “Once upon a time . . . ” is not a child’s tale after all (Hemingway 482). In the dark corners of this story, evidence exists that hints toward Hemingway’s underlying themes of Code, Initiation, and Hero.
Harold Krebs goes to war, the good lion goes to Africa. The travel experiences of the two individuals are quite different. Krebs fits in in the service. He was one of the guys. The good lion was not accepted by the inhabitants of Africa. Clearly, he is the exact opposite of the bad lions in Africa. The bad lions did not accept the good lion because he looked different, he ate different things, and he was from a different place. The bad lions could not, it seems, tolerate cultural diversity. A lion is a lion is a lion, right? No, this was an intelligent “lion of culture” and “the son of a griffon” (483).
It seems that the good lion comes from high, well-to-do stock while the bad lions are merely savages. This is an interesting concept when applied to Hemingway, never-the-less, the good lion seems to be the favorable personality in the tale. This French and Spanish speaking lion
is also polite. He is also a bit instigating though and he seems very sure of himself: “He circled them [the bad lions] once more to make them roar more loudly” (Hemingway 483). In “Soldier’s Home,” the readers are not given the details of Krebs’s war experience but we seem to know that it did not allow such bravery, grace, or escape.
The reaction against the experience Krebs has is devastating and nauseating. When Krebs returns, he is not able to relax right back into old ways. Those that Krebs returns to are not fully understanding nor empathetic. The good lion’s return experience is much different. The father, griffon is welcoming and “the horses still had their feet up and the Basilica looked more beautiful than a soap bubble” (Hemingway 483). Not much has changed other than the fact that there is now “night lighting” (Hemingway 483). Everything is just how the good lion left it except for the lighting that does not cause any great emotion in the good lion. Where Krebs has difficulty returning to normal, the good lion automatically trots over to Harry’s bar where he sees nice familiar people.
The circumstances are different for the two protagonists, but the long-term effect is similar. The good lion and Krebs have been affected by their experiences. Krebs in a way that seems very severe and the good lion in a way that seems almost trivial but is not. Just as Krebs will never be the same, Africa will have a lasting impression on the good lion because he “had flown all the way from Africa and Africa had changed him” and because “he knew that he was at home but that he had also traveled” (Hemingway 484).
Having the experience as an asset, the good lion becomes a hypocrite. One of the very first things the good lion does is order a “Hindu trader sandwich” which was one of the things the African lions ate, only without the sandwich, that made the good lion claim that they were savage (Hemingway 483-484). The irony that comes with this at the end of the story makes one have to remember that this is a “fable” and that somewhere in this silliness, Hemingway to has provide us a lesson to be learned. The fact is that the good lion is a bad lion too, well, he is in parts. He may have wings, or be from somewhere else, but deep down he is just as much animal as the bad lions. He requests a sandwich made of Hindu traders which “are fat and delicious to a lion” which he is (Hemingway 482).
The good lion, because of his wings and because his father is a griffon, has the opportunity to see how the other half lives. The experience is embraced by the good lion. The fact that he may have done something he had condemned earlier is not important. The importance lies in having the upper hand. In Africa, the good lion knew things the others did not and then he knew things that his friends in Harry’s Bar where “nothing was changed” did not (Hemingway 484).All this knowing made the good lion “very happy” (Hemingway 484).
Besides the differences and likenesses found between Krebs and the good lion, there are also components of the Hemingway’s themes that would seem to be unlikely in a child’s story. First of all, the good lion has a code! He is loyal to his father because he takes pride in telling the African lions about him. He defends his father to them. And he is proper because he “would sit and fold his wings back and ask politely” (Hemingway 482). He is also a “dutiful son” as he pays homage to his father when he “flew up for a moment and kissed his father on both cheeks” and agrees to take care of his father’s business with Cipriani (Hemingway 483).
The good lion has a certain way he goes about things and he was able to maintain himself and his code in Africa for some unknown amount of time. In Africa, the good lion discovers a part of himself that he chooses to embrace only after he has returned to Venice. This transformation that the good lion goes through is a part of his initiation into truth. He found something that had been relatively absent in is pre-Africa existence. And He chooses to call on his new found knowledge on his own terms, at home. His self awareness and self control combined with his facing the truth head on make him a Hemingway Hero.