Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
The story begins abruptly with two gangsters, Al and Max, entering a small diner in the town of Summit, Illinois, near Chicago. They try to order dinner, but George, the counterman, tells them that the dinner menu will not be available until six o’clock. After asking for eggs with ham and bacon, the two gangsters order the only other customer in the place, Nick Adams, to go behind the counter with George. Next they ask who is in the kitchen, and they are told that the only other person there is Sam, the black cook. They tell George to have him come out. Al takes Nick and Sam into the kitchen, where he ties and gags them; then he props up the slit where dishes are passed through from the kitchen and positions himself with a sawed-off shotgun aimed at the counter, while Max remains at the counter talking to George. He tells George that they are going to kill Ole Andreson, a Swede who usually comes into the diner at six.
They wait until after seven for Ole Andreson, who never comes in, and they finally leave, with Al concealing the shotgun under his coat. George goes into the kitchen and unties the other two. He tells Nick where Andreson lives and advises him to go and warn him. Nick goes to Andreson’s boardinghouse, and, after speaking to the woman who looks after the place, he goes to Ole’s room, where he finds Ole lying in bed. When Nick asks Ole if he should go and tell the police, Ole tells him not to, that it would not do any good, and he rolls...
(The entire section is 397 words.)
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“The Killers” was first published at the height of the Prohibition Era in 1927, a time when criminal activity was rampant throughout the United States, most notably in and around Chicago. Like many of Hemingway’s short stories of the 1920s, it features the character of Nick Adams playing a passive, but nonetheless central, role as a reactor to the plot’s events. It begins when two men (Al and Max) enter a diner in a small town near Chicago and order dinner. When the counterman George says that they must wait until six o’clock for dinner, they order ham and eggs and then scan the scene. They see that young Nick is the only other customer there, order him to go around the counter with George, and then call the cook, Sam, from the kitchen.
It becomes plain that Al and Max are professional killers or hit-men. One of them takes Nick and Sam back to the kitchen where he first ties them up and then gags them. He then takes a shotgun from under his long coat and sticks it through the service slot between the kitchen and the counter. The other guards George and openly reveals that they are here to kill Ole Anderson, a regular customer at the diner and former prize-fighter who has apparently crossed the mob. Although Ole usually eats his supper there at 6 o’clock, on this night the “Swede” does not appear at his regular time. After waiting an hour, Al and Max simply leave.
George unties Nick and Sam, and he tells Nick that he must warn Ole that mobsters have come to kill him. Nick goes to the boarding house where Ole lives and finds him lying in bed. He tells the ex-boxer what has happened and offers to go to the police. But Ole says that this would not do any good and appears to be resigned to his fate. Nick then goes back to the diner and to George’s speculation that the Swede must have angered some Chicago crime boss. Nick, for his part, is so disturbed by the appearance of the killers and by Ole’s odd response to the news that he plans to leave town altogether. George agrees with this decision, and advises him not to think about Ole’s impending murder.
Although the targeted victim seems to accept that his pursuers have good cause to kill him, the reader is never apprised of the reason that the two gangsters have been dispatched to murder Ole. What makes their appearance so frightening is the casual, matter-of-fact way in which they go...
(The entire section is 530 words.)
First published in the March, 1927, Scribner's Magazine, "The Killers" was completed when Hemingway was visiting Spain in the summer of 1926, but he had started the story much earlier. Revisions on the story included changing the name from the working title "The Matadors" to "The Killers." Hemingway also changed the name of the old prizefighter from Neroni to Ole Anderson and the setting from Petoskey, Michigan, to Summit, Illinois. Later he changed the spelling of Anderson to Andreson.
Some critics believe that the story was written as a result of a rift between Hemingway and his mentor, Sherwood Anderson. Hemingway had written a parody (The Torrents of Spring, 1926) of Anderson's novel Dark Laughter in a successful attempt to break a contract with Boni and Liveright, Anderson's publisher and Hemingway's first publisher, so that Hemingway could move to Scribner's publishing house. After the parody was published, the two writers corresponded tersely. In Hemingway's letters he defended his book and believed he had to write it to get ahead, but Anderson did not attack Hemingway's writing or fight back against the affront, much as the prizefighter in "The Killers" seemed resigned to his fate. The change of location from Michigan to a town midway between the boyhood home of Hemingway in Oak Park and the Palos Park home of Anderson at the time the two first met lends credence to the supposition that Hemingway had Anderson in mind when he...
(The entire section is 241 words.)
‘‘The Killers’’ begins with two men walking into Henry’s lunchroom and discussing what they want to eat. Max and Al bicker over what menu items are available with George, the counterman who had been talking with Nick Adams, the only other customer. Some confusion occurs over the correct time. The clock says 5:20, but George tells the men it is twenty minutes fast. The men finally order eggs with ham and bacon and then taunt Nick and George, sarcastically calling them ‘‘bright boys’’ and making fun of their small town, Summit. Al and Max order George to tell the cook, Sam, to come out of the kitchen, and then Al takes Nick and Sam back into the kitchen. They call Sam ‘‘nigger,’’ a much-used epithet for African Americans in 1920s’ America.
Max announces that they are at the lunchroom to kill Ole Andreson, a Swede who usually eats dinner there at six o’clock. It is obvious the men have been hired, as Max says they have never seen Ole before. ‘‘We’re killing him for a friend. Just to oblige a friend,’’ Max says. Al and Max continue with their banter, taunting Nick and Sam. At one point, Al says, ‘‘The nigger [Sam] and my bright boy [Nick] are amused by themselves. I got them tied up like a couple of girl friends in the convent.’’ Referring to the two as ‘‘girl friends’’ is tough talk and meant to belittle the men’s masculinity.
A customer comes in at a...
(The entire section is 629 words.)