The Role of Kitty in Return of the Soldier
After completing West’s novel Return of the Soldier, I find it highly ironic that the wife of the title character, Chris, is rarely mentioned. One would suppose that a loved one of the the title character would be mentioned more, but Kitty is not. An obvious reason for this is because Chris does not remember his wife after returning to war. He has no recollection of his past with her, so Chris does not remember his wife, West will not place her frequently in the novel. Like in Chris’s mind, Kitty must be in the background of the plot.
By looking closer at the personalities and behaviors of Kitty, we see that Kitty is not very helpful or sympathetic towards Chris and his lack of memory. She expects him to remember her, and when she discovers that he does not, she does not try too hard to understand. Her first (and final, really) attempt to jar his memory involves Kitty dressing up in an elegant gown and covering herself with jewels. “It seems so strange that you should not remember me,” she remarks and then indicates of the jewels: “You gave me all of these” (27). Perhaps our lovely wife is so disconnected from her husband that she does not deserve a place in the foreground of the plot. Because Chris embodies the War in the novel, a parallel between Kitty’s disconnect with her husband and with an understanding of the War is present.
Thus far, Kitty has served as a symbol of Chris’ memory loss and a lack of understanding of the War. It is true that she is not directly present in the novel, but how curious it is that West gives the closing lines of her novel to Kitty! Once Chris is reminded of his past and remembers who he is, Kitty watches him walk back to the house. Jenny believes that he looks “every inch a soldier,” and Kitty exclaims that “he’s cured!” (90). West interjects a preposition in Kitty’s exclamation that reveals a bit more of character: with satisfaction. How are we as readers supposed to interpret this? Did all Kitty desire was for her husband to return to normalcy? Why couldn’t she have accepted him in the state of mind that he was?
I believe that in giving Kitty the last line, and such a powerful last line, emphasizes an understanding of the War from a female perspective. Judging by Kitty’s reactions in the novel, West feels that women do not fully understand the War or anything that caused the War. Kitty is happy that her husband is “cured,” which means that he is back to his normal self. We see a return of the soldier, but is this return good? Are we to celebrate with Kitty, who appears to be wildly disconnected from reality, or are we to question this return?
West, Rebecca. Return of the Soldier. United States: The Century Co., 1918. Print.