The Killers by Ernest Hemingway (Summary & Analysis)

The Killers by Ernest Hemingway (Summary & Analysis)

“The Killers” deals with lawlessness in the most civilized society of the world. Human life is so cheap that killing somebody is as easy as chopping radish and carrots. The story is full of horror and suspense. It is all a moving drama. The scene of the story opens in a restaurant. Two hurdlings, Al and Max, come in. They look in an aggressive mood. They send for butler, Nick Adam. George enquires the new entrants about their wish. They reply nothing and remain silent for some time. Nick Adams at the same time is standing beside the counter. It is five o’clock in the evening and the streetlight is coming inside the room through the window.

Al and Max read the menu and order something to eat. The boy informs them that their special demand cannot be met at present. They pass abusive remarks. Al re-orders for ham and eggs while his other fellow, Max, for bacon and eggs.

The stature and status of both Al and Max seem to be alike. Al then asks George to fetch the cook, Sam, out of the kitchen. Al takes Sam and Nick Adams back to the kitchen and ties them back-to-back. They ask Al what he is going to do with them. They are told that both Al and Max are going to kill Ole Anderson, an ex-heavyweight boxer of Sweden. Meanwhile, both the cook Sam and Nick Adam are gagged with a towel so they may not make any noise. Max loudly announces that every customer must be excused that the cook is off today.

After a short time, Al and Max realize that their plan to kill Ole Anderson is going to be frustrated. Al suggests to Max that they should stay there for some more time. In the meantime, some of the customers come there who are easily tackled by George. Al and Max also pass some pranks just to pass time easily. They soon realize that their plan to kill Ole Anderson is going to fall flat. After their exit, George unties Nick Adam and Sam. Nick Adam hurries to Ole Anderson’s lodging to tell him all about it. Ole Anderson is found lying on the bed in a state of nothingness. Nick Adam informs Ole all about the killers and their fabricated designs.

Ole Anderson thanks Adam for the tip but looks at the wall constantly. He shows no sign of fear on his face. Nick also suggests Ole report the whole matter to the police but to no purpose. He also asks Ole to leave the town but Ole Anderson refuses to do so because he is fed up with running death. Later on, Nick Anderson returns to the restaurant and tells George that he cannot stand a sight of Ole’s quit death. George says that Nick had better not indulge in such thoughts.

Analysis of Characters

Character: Al

Al is one of the two professional killers. He with his accomplice visits Henry’s lunchroom, to kill Ole Anderson. Apparently, he looks serious and grim. His face is small and white having tight lips. He is wearing a derby hat, a black overcoat, silk muffler, and gloves. So, he uses abusive language like a strict taskmaster with George, Sam, and Nick. He has made the whole hotel management his hostages. He is bearing a shotgun in his hand. His appearance poses more horrible than his accomplice Max. At the beginning of the story, he behaves professionally and poses to be undecided about what to eat. But soon he starts behaving like a bullying boss and issues many commands to hotel management. He is over-confident and ties Nick Adam and Sam back to back in the kitchen by gagging their mouth.

Character: Max

Max is also a professional hireling like Al. He is wearing tight-fitting costumes alike his accomplice. Through costume, color, statue, and structure he is alike Al. he is also in search of a Swede Ole Anderson to shoot him at sight. The design behind this murder is nothing more than to please their friend.

Throughout the story, Max sits at the counter opposite George. He does not look at George but looks in the mirror that runs along the back of the counter. He doesn’t seem to be as abusive and arrogant as his partner Al. If Al talks in a bossy aggressive manner, Max talks politely with his single hostage, George. He rather praises George time and again as a bright boy. So, he is very careful about his mission. He eats while wearing gloves so there may be no fingerprint. On occasions, his companion Al for talking too much scolds him.

Character: Ole Anderson

Ole Anderson is the central character of the story whose miserable life is the pivot of entire theme. Hemingway looks upon American society through the character of Ole Anderson. He pinpoints some of its delicate aspects, which are generally overlooked by an ordinary citizen.

Ole Anderson has been a prizewinner heavy-weight boxer for a long time. He is now living a retired life. He is an experienced man and knows the ups and downs of life. Being lonely, he does not find any occupation. He is a foreigner and came to the USA to avail of greater opportunities. He might have double-crossed somebody to achieve his ends. Now he is disillusioned with all these things. His life is dull and drab for lacking kith and kin, friends, and family. He is a stranger in the country of strangers. He knows that some cut-throats are running after him. They want to shoot him at sight. Though he is courteous, well mannered, and polite but passive and resigned to his fate. He is ready to face come what may.

Character: Nick Adam

Nick Adam is one of the most attractive characters in the story. He is a counterman in the hotel staff. He is thrust inside the kitchen by Al at gunpoint and tied back to back with Sam. And, he is a brave fellow and does not get nervous. He is calm, cool, and understands the situation properly. He deems it wise to compromise for a while. And, he is a good man by nature. He tells Ole Anderson sympathetically the evil design of the hirelings. He appealingly suggests Ole Anderson either report the matter to the police or leave the town. And, he offers his full co-operation and sympathy to the victim. He tries to console Ole Anderson by saiying that the killers might be just bluffers.

Character: Sam

Sam, the Negro, is a cook at Henry’s lunchroom. In profession, he is a good cook but in character he is intolerant. He has won many permanent customers due to the delicious dishes, he prepares. Under some sudden pressure, he behaves timidly. He loses his heart at being made hostage by the hirelings. His mouth is also gagged with Nick Adam and is tied back to back with him. Perhaps that is the first dreadful experience of his life, he loses his senses. He is much relieved when George sets him free. He also asks George and Nick Adam to stay out of the matter. It all shows that he lacks courage, tolerance, and sympathy for others. He may be easy in smooth flowing water and restless in troubled waters.

Character: Henry George

Henry George is the waiter in the hotel who runs it with the help of Nick Adam and Sam. He is an intelligent and capable fellow. He has a ready wit, prompt to answer, and is well versed in hotel affairs. And, he realizes by the awesome and aggressive attitude of Al and Max that he should be mild and tolerant. He provides them ham and eggs, and bacon and eggs.

He notices Al and Max taking a meal with gloves on their hands and is admonished by Max but he does not lose his temperament. But when Max tells Nick and Sam to stand on the other end of the counter, he asks them courageously what was the idea. At the departure of hirelings, he immediately unties Nick and Sam. He sends Nick Adam to inform Anderson about the whole situation. He sympathizes with Anderson and shares sentiments of Nick Adam. Thus we conclude that he is a good man on the whole.

Law & Order in the USA, in light of “The Killers”

Hemingway criticizes American society quite in an impressive and expressive manner. He juxtaposes his characters and the law-enforcing agencies. Al and Max are the killers who are heartless scoundrels. Criminal activities are rampant in the so-called most civilized society of the world. Such killers take the killing of a person quite casually.

To cut the throat of somebody is as easy as to chop carrot and radish. They do not have a justified reason to kill Ole Anderson but merely to oblige a friend. To them, the importance of life is not more than a toy, which is broken to please a child. Such cutthroats wander freely and safely in society because they are protected by big guns. It shows the miserable condition of moral and ethical values in American society. It is a society where people are too selfish too money-minded and too materialistic to see beyond their personal ends.

Ole Anderson is the victim of such brutality. All other characters i the story praise him as a harmless fellow. He has given up resistance against evil forces. Law enforcement agencies like police do not provide any protection to citizens. They are functioning as a mere tool in the hands of big guns. Even characters like Nick Adams are so disillusioned of rampant crime that they would like to leave the town for good. Hence, the title itself is justified.

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