Hemingway: The Killers. An Interpretation

Term Paper, 2002

19 Pages, Grade: 2,0



I. Introduction

II. Short biography of the author

III. The Plot:
III.1. Exposition and summary of the story
III.2. The structure of the story

IV. The main characters

V. The technique and style of narration

VI. Symbols, pictures and motives

VII. A biographical approach to `The Killers`

VIII. Conclusion

IX. Bibliography

I. Introduction:

Ernest Miller Hemingway – a short story writer, novelist, deep-sea fisher, soldier, hunter and reporter- and one of the most important writers of the 20th century.

Well known for his books like e.g. A Farewell To Arms, To Have and Have Not, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, Across the River and into the Trees and especially the novelette: The Old Man and The Sea.

I would like to present here another, maybe less popular but in no case less interesting short story of Ernest Hemingway: The Killers.

`The Killers` was published in 1927 as a part of the short story collection `Men without women`. When releasing `The Killers`, Hemingway was already known as one of the most important representatives of the so-called`lost-generation` (one year before Ernest Hemingway made his name with the novel `The Sun Also Rises` which catches the post-war mood of disillusion). This generation of North-American authors of the 1920s participated as soldiers or, like Hemingway did, as volunteers with the ambulance in World War I and returned home: frustrated, cynical and self-confidently indifferent towards life.

In the following essay I would like to give a short summary of Hemingway’s biography first. This is followed by an exposition ( i.e. setting, time, main characters) and a brief outline of the story. The next focus will be on the structure of the story: How it starts, how it develops and how it ends.

Then I continue with the characterization of the main characters ( the direct or indirect characterization and the relationships between the characters ).

After this, I examine the technique ( the point of view, relationship between narrator and reader ) and the style of narration .

Symbols, motives and pictures will be dealt with in the last but one part of my essay.

Finally, I would like to focus on possible parallels between ‚The Killers‘ and Ernest Hemingway’s biographical or personal background respectively.

II. Short biography of the author

Ernest Miller Hemingway was born on July 21st 1899 in Oak Park, Illinois. He was the second of altogether six children of his parents Clarence Hemingway, a country doctor, and Grace Hall, a music teacher.

The family was part of the upper middle-class, a society which was strongly influenced by Protestantism, hard physical work and conservative values. Young Ernest spent most of his vacations in the Michigan woods where he was taught hunting and fishing by his father. This close relationship to nature soon became an important factor within Hemingway’s further life: Even if he had been living and working in big cities for a while, Ernest Hemingway often returned to quiet and lonesome places in nature for recovering and writing.

After finishing High School in 1917, Hemingway preferred working as a reporter in Kansas City to going to College. With the help of this job, he managed to learn the basics of writing: „Those were the best rules I ever learned for the business of writing. I’ve never forgotten them“. A little bit later, Hemingway signed up for the military as an ambulance driver and went to Europe. He was severely wounded several times in France and Italy (World War I), in Spain ( Civil War, 1937) and again in France (World War II, 1944).

In 1919, he returned to the USA and soon married his first of four wifes, Hadley Richardson. In the following years, Hemingway worked once again as a correspondent in Europe where he made friends with famous writers like e.g. Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein and James Joyce but also famous artists like Picasso and Miró.

The years from 1925-1929 became the important period of the `lost generation`:

In Our Time, The Sun also Rises, Men without Women and A Farewell to Arms all deal with the disillusion, disappointments and despair of post-war time. Within these few years, Hemingway became a very succesful and popular writer, also in a financial point of view. In 1933, he got the possibility to participate in a safari in Africa, which led to his novels or short stories Green Hills of Africa, The Snows of Kilimanjaro and The Short and Happy Life of Francis Macomber.

After another correspondent job in the Spanish Civil War in 1937 (For whom the Bell Tolls, The Fifth Column) he moved to Cuba. In the following years, he participated in an undercover-operation against German submarines, worked as a war correspondent in England and returned to Paris accompanied by some partisan fighters.

After publishing The Old Man and The Sea in 1952, Hemingway spent his time with bull-fighting and big-game hunting in Europe and Africa. Unfortunately, he suffered several airplane-crashes from which he never could totally recover. Once again, he moved away from Cuba and returned to the US, Idaho. In 1954 he was awarded the Nobel Prize of Literature ``for his powerful, style-forming mastery of the art of modern narration:`` Growing health problems and depressions finally led to suicide in 1961.

III. The Plot

III.1. Exposition and summary of the story

a) Place:

Most of the story takes place within Henry’s lunchroom which is ran by a person called George. This lunchroom ( a former saloon ) is situated in the town Summit in the State of New Jersey, south of New York. As most of the the residents seem to know each other the town may be rather small. The town doesn’t seem to have

a wide range of freetime-possibilities and restaurants, so most people come to Henry’s lunch room for dinner:

`What do you do here nights?`Al asked. `They eat the dinner,`his friend said. `They all come here and eat the big dinner.` `That’s right,` George said. (page 8, l. 22-25)

b) Characters:

The most important characters are the two killers Max and Al, George who runs the lunch counter and his friend, or at least good customer, Nick Adams.

Then of course the person which is supposed to be killed and only appears at the very end of the short story: the Swede, Ole Andreson, a former heavy-weight prize-fighter who rests at Hirsch’s rooming-house for some days.

Less important characters are the black cook Sam, the Landlady Mrs. Bell who looks after Hirsch’s rooming-house and several customers who appear and disappear quickly in Henry’s lunch-room.

c) Time:

There are no precise dates of year in the text but according to following details the story can be placed within the first half of the 20th century, i.e. the present time of the author:

First of all the clothing of the two killers Max and Al. Their silk mufflers, tight overcoats and gloves appear like remnants of a Western Movie. To George, they

look like a `vaudeville team`. This oddity would suit to the fact that the lunch-

room had once been a saloon, but in the trend of social and economic changes was converted into a lunch-room for workers from nearby.

Another hint is the way the cook Sam behaves and is treated by the other characters: He is simply called `The Nigger` who works in the kitchen. He is not a slave anymore but is also not yet a fully accepted member of the society. So the civil rights movement is still about to come. Finally, a street-car motorman who comes in for supper shows us the present state of technological evolution.

Regarding the day time of the story, we are told that the two killers enter the lunch-room at 5 p.m., at dusk.. They leave at 7.10. p.m. when it is already dark outside. Due to this fact and also to a land lady’s utterance (``Mr. Andreson, you ought to go out and take a walk on a nice fall day like this,``but he didn’t feel like it.` Page 16, l.11,12) we know that the season must be fall.


Excerpt out of 19 pages


Hemingway: The Killers. An Interpretation
University of Freiburg  (Englisches Seminar)
Einführung in die Literaturwissenschaft
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
600 KB
Hemingway, Killers, Interpretation, Einführung, Literaturwissenschaft
Quote paper
Robert Mattes (Author), 2002, Hemingway: The Killers. An Interpretation, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/46442


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