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The Killers: Short story genre of Earnest Hemingway

The literary style of Earnest Hemingway, Nobel laureate in 1954, is direct, terse, and often monotonous, yet suited to elemental subject matters. His fiction and short stories usually focus on people living essential, dangerous lives, controlling the pain and difficulty of their existence, with stoic courage. Hemingway’s characters plainly embody his own values and views of life. His story, “The Killers,” is rated as one of the greatest short stories among his collection of “Short Stories published in 1938.” (Hemingway). On its first reading it will appear simple, conversational narrative without much meaning or containing any poignant message. In a nut-shell, the story of “The Killer” is woven on two men who want to kill a Swede and employees of ‘Henry’s lunchroom. They look for him in the bar where George and Nick work. Later, Nick runs off to warn the Swede, who has given up life and awaits their arrival. It becomes difficult for a reader to understand the narrative style and the hidden meanings ensconced in simple phrases of Hemingway. “The Killers” is an example of the author’s style of abstract narration in the short story genre.

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The story of “The Killers” centres on young male characters, loosely unified by the encounters with their own mortality and by their attempt to negotiate between the male camaraderie found in sports and drinking. The drama takes place in ‘Henry’s lunchroom,’ where two young hungry men, Max and Al dressed alike twins, enters to dine. Their rude conduct and talking style is reflective of their character, and they are not bashful in telling in the open that they are to kill a big Swede named Ole Anderson, who dined at Henry’s usually at six o’clock. They are to kill the Swede, who they never saw before, “for a friend, just to oblige a friend.” The two killers threatened the employees to act according to their orders, and tied up Nick Adams, the counter boy and Sam, the nigger cook as a precaution. After waiting for the Swede for some time the killers left Henry’s, probably without paying their bill. George sent a message to Mr. Anderson, through Nick Adams, to caution him about the killer. The news was not a surprise to the Swede, because he “got in wrong” and was “through with all that running around.” He feels his fate is sealed and is lying in wait with all his clothes on to embrace it. In this story George is idiotic, Nick Adam is morally innocent, and Ole Anderson is a defeatist. On analyzing the behaviour of these three it derives that the characters in ‘The killers’ are emotional wrecks who easily succumb to bullying by gun wielders.

Introduction of two strangers into the story, who saunters casually to Henry’s lunchroom and their dialogue delivery tone, is enough to raise suspicion on their moral character and motive. Their reply “I don’t know’ to George’s query “what’s yours?’, their order for dinner at dusk-that too after reading the menu, their ensuing argument about dinner schedule, time of the clock, their choice of drink, and description of their appearance are all examples given by Hemingway to alert the readers what is expected to come next from such characters. Through the simple phrases “This is a hot town” and “what do they do here nights?’ hints that they are complete strangers to the place. However, they take cold pleasure in bullying and rebuking the three employees, tying Nick and Sam up and stashing them in the kitchen. They threaten George to shirk from entertaining customers, in order to keep the place for themselves to accomplish their mission. When they decided the Swede is not showing up, after keeping them ‘amused’ by holding employees at gun point, they left without further episode. This is typical Hemingway style of holding the readers in the string of suspense and leaving them in a state of shock at the end.

The study of Hemingway’s characters, in ‘The Killers,’ reveals that they display an emotional detachment from matters of life and death. First, it is in the form of two killers who tortured the lunchroom employees, and next it is the Swede, Ole Anderson. When Nick warn him about the looming threat from strangers, Ole declines all offers of help and shows little inclination to protect himself. He appears to have determined that his fate is sealed and there is nothing to be done about it.

The story also carries a tinge of homosexuality, which comes to the fore from these words of killers: “You go around on the other side of the counter with your boy friend”; “The nigger and my bright boy are amused by themselves. I got them tied up like a couple of girlfriends in the convent”; and ‘what we do to a nigger?”. To an extent it has to be construed that these words, delivered through his characters, are reflective of Hemingway’s views on homosexuality.

“The Killers” portrays the remarkable style of Hemingway as there are no detailed descriptions to the plot, surroundings, or flashbacks, but only a brief introduction to the situation, as and when warranted. The killers aim, motive, and individual descriptions are given in a few sentences, which may be expanded into long paragraphs if required. The reason for killing the Swede is “He must have got mixed up in something in Chicago” and “Double-crossed somebody. That’s what they kill them for,” and these pieces of dialogue speak volumes. The story’s strength lies in the brutal terseness with which it presents the situation and action of its characters, offering neither commentary nor resolution. Hemingway uses objective correlative, a single sentence naturally fitted into the rest, for applying the mood and the subtext in ‘The Killers’ to surprise the readers in the end, and leave them in a state of shock, with feeling of having been deceived. In “The Killers” Hemingway spares us of the gory details, omitting the cheap action, and instead focuses on the characters and how they choose to deal with the situation.

Works Cited

Hemingway, Earnest. Earnest Hemingway. The Columbia Encyclopaedia, Sixth Edition. HighBeam. 2008. Web.

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1. StudyCorgi. "The Killers: Short story genre of Earnest Hemingway." October 24, 2021.


StudyCorgi. "The Killers: Short story genre of Earnest Hemingway." October 24, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "The Killers: Short story genre of Earnest Hemingway." October 24, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'The Killers: Short story genre of Earnest Hemingway'. 24 October.

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