The Best Years of Our Lives…

In William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives, Homer is one of three war veterans who is  anxiously returning to the homeland to finally see his family and sweetheart, Wilma. Unfortunately, Homer lost both his arms in the war and was given hook prosthetics for hand replacements. Although the navy taught him the basics fairly well, it will undoubtedly present a struggle for Homer when operating his new hooks especially when he wants to show compassion and sensitivity. It’s quite obvious that hooks are not the most inviting things to see when shaking hands or receiving a hug. He has qualms of how everyone will perceive and act towards him. They may treat him like a fragile child or worse, like a villainous monster.

 Once home, Homer received a warm but awkward welcome from most. His primary dilemma is not only his fear of  Wilma and his family’s reaction to his hooks. His crucial setback is his inability to accept himself as a valuable man without the functionality of  hands. He has been forced to live without the use of the tools that make most everyday activities possible like dining with his family, opening doors, and changing his own clothes. He feels worthless. His depression causes him to seclude himself from his family when he feels they don’t understand what he’s going through. He  pushes Wilma away, even though he loves her. He wishes that everyone would treat him ‘normal’, just as before. Homer is dreaming the impossible which prohibits him from accepting his current reality.   

Homer became paranoid while attempting to adjust to his new civilian life. He becomes better at performing daily activities, but he still feels as if some of the others mock or secretly pity him. In one scene, Wilma is making an effort to communicate with Homer to discuss the future of their relationship. During their talk, Homer noticed the neighborhood kids staring into the window peering in on the couple. He assumed that they were trying to catch a glimpse of his hooks. Heated, he shouted with a menacing glare, “Wanna see the monster!” as he jabbed through the glass and shattered the window. The kids were just trying to spy on the engaged couple, not meaning to cause any harm or dispute. This demonstrates how mentally unstable Homer is and shows how uncomfortable he is with his new permanent physical state.

In the pivotal scene of the film, Wilma comes to see Homer one late night, worried because her parents are trying to send her away in hopes she will forget about him. She makes it very clear that she wants to stay with Homer and begin their life together. He insists that she will become unhappy and eventually despise him for all the things he can’t do by himself. He would become dependent on her assistance and she would grow tired of constantly having to attend to his needs. She adamantly claims that she has to at least try being together or she would always wonder what could have been. At that point, he takes her upstairs to show her what she has never seen before. Homer stood in his room, shirt and hooks off, revealing his complete vulnerability to Wilma. In that state, Homer had to rely on her to open the door if it were to shut, button his shirt, and put his hooks back on in the morning since he was unable to do it himself. She graciously accepted Homer in her arms, assuring him that she wanted to be the one there that he could always rely on. Homer finally gained the happy ending that he had wished for, an incredible achievement for any war veteran.

Works cited:

1. The Best Years of Our Lives. Dir. William Wyler. Screenplay by Robert E. Sherwood. By Mackinley Kantor. Performances by Harold Russell, Cathy O’Donell. 1946. videocassette.


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