What are the symbols in "The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio"? Ernest Hemingway

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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With the theme of life as an injurious illusion, the hospital is the main symbol in Hemingway's story.  Wounded by life, the gambler and Mr. Frazier lie in the hospital where the nun works as a nurse. For the man who gambles, "a poor idealist" and a "victim of illusions," his occupation is symbolic of those who hope that chance will affect their lives and alter these "illusions." The nun, who prays constantly and desires to be a saint, pretends that some men are good and some bad. Her religion acts as an"opium" to keep her from participating actively in life. Thus, the illusions the people hold are that which keeps them from despairing in life. For Mr. Frazier, the writer, the radio is his "opium," as is the tequilla that he drinks.  At night, he drinks his tequilla and plays the radio "so that you could harly hear it," the story of loneliness, suffering, and endurance that is life.

In summary, then, the symbols in Hemingway's "The Gambler, the Nun and the Radio" are as follows:

  • the hospital -life as an injurious illusion
  • gambling - illusionary hope for luck in life
  • religion - an escape from life, hope for a spiritual life and rewards
  • tequilla - an opium to wash away the illusions of life--"a sovereign opium."
  • radio - instrument of music, an "opium" which creates an illusion to shut out life
  • revolution - the act of rebelling from a standard creates the illusion of freedom, but is soon lost.
  • bread - the "real, actual opium, of the people.  Bread, a staple of life, is the real opium of the people.

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