During the first three chapters of Return of the Soldier, the unfortunate situation of Jenny, Kitty, and their soldier—Chris—unfolds. As the characters experience emotional highs and lows, the incorporation of music and sounds, or the lack thereof, enhances the situations within the story and provides a reflection of character identity.
One of the first references to music in the novel occurs when the narrator is speaking about the woman calling on the women: “I remember thinking. . . how little it mattered who had called. . .since there was no chance that Chris would come in and stand over her. . .and show her that detached attention, such as an unmusical man pays to good music, which men of anchored affections give to attractive women” (8-9). In this excerpt, music is compared to women, and the relationship described is one of incomprehensibility and/or disinterest as it relates to a married man (Chris) showing other attractive women attention. Already, the novel shows the importance of musical exposure and romantic relationships, although it does so subtly.
The next major mention of music appears when Kitty is reacting negatively to Mrs. Grey’s news about Chris: “But Mrs. Grey. . .had desisted, simply because she realized that there were no harsh notes on her lyre and that she could not strike these chords that others found so easy. . .” (14). The musical metaphor here characterizes the emotional disposition of Mrs. Grey as well as a social maturity—instead of continuing along the same vein in open and flustered opposition to Kitty, she stops herself short and reassesses her position in the situation as the unfortunate attacked messenger. This use of musical reference highlights the integral role that music plays in high society life.
On the day that Chris actually returns home, Kitty and Jenna busy themselves with domestic and emotional preparation. As his arrival is delayed, Kitty does what she can to pass the time away and calm her temperament, and she finds some solace in music. Jenny reflects, “So Kitty went into the drawing-room and filled the house with the desolate merriment of an inattentively played pianola while I sat in the hall and wrote letters and noticed how sad dance music has sounded ever since the war began” (23). While Kitty achieves minimal catharsis via her musical activity, Jenny reflects on the somber state of social and domestic affairs—music acts as both a facilitator of release and bondage.
Finally, Kitty’s discontent with Jenny for “play[ing] Beethoven when it’s the war that’s caused all this” (29)—referencing Chris’ memory lapse and its effects—exposes her deeper angst with her new reality as a stranger to her husband. Kitty goes on to sharply state, “I could have told that you would have chosen to play German music, this night of all nights” (29). Instead of focusing on the big issues at hand, Kitty uses Jenny and her musical selection as scapegoats, further highlighting the emotional effects of music and the identities associated with particular composers.