‘‘The Killers,’’ Ernest Hemingway’s story about two hit men who come to a small town to kill a former prizefighter, was first published in the March 1927 issue of Scribner’s Magazine. Hemingway was paid two hundred dollars for the story, which was the first of his mature stories to appear in an American periodical. His original title for the story was ‘‘The Matadors.’’ Hemingway included the story in his 1927 collection Men Without Women, and it also appears in The Nick Adams Stories (1972). ‘‘The Killers’’ remains one of Hemingway’s most anthologized stories because it is representative of Hemingway’s style and the subjects that would occupy his work throughout his career. These subjects include the meaninglessness of human life, male camaraderie, and the inevitability of death, and Hemingway explores them using his signature short sentences, slang, and understatement.
Hemingway claims to have written the story in a frenzy of inspiration on May 16, 1926, before lunch. Like many of his short stories, ‘‘The Killers’’ features Nick Adams, a typical Hemingway hero, one in a long line of Hemingway’s fictional selves. Hemingway introduced Nick Adams in his first collection of stories, In Our Time (1925). Nick is an adolescent in ‘‘The Killers,’’ and critics have argued that Nick’s experience with the hit men marks his initiation into adulthood and his introduction to evil and violence.