Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Ernest Hemingway’s style gives the clue to the real meaning of the story. On their first reading, most readers think that the killers and Ole Andreson are the central figures, but the reader never learns what Ole did or what will ultimately happen to him. Instead, the story simply ends with the three bystanders back in the restaurant discussing what has happened. Although the tone of the story is objective throughout—indeed, the story consists almost entirely of dialogue, with little interpretation or judgment by the author—the focus is clearly on the three bystanders, especially Nick Adams.
Of the three, Nick Adams is the only one whose last name is given, and he is the one who goes to warn Ole, so the narrative follows him throughout. In addition, one of the few interpretative comments on the action by the author concerns Nick. When Nick is untied by George, Hemingway mentions that Nick has never had a towel in his mouth before and that his reaction is one of “trying to swagger it off.” At the end of the story, it is only through simple dialogue that the reader learns the reactions of all three. However, Nick’s reaction is most important, as the other two are from the area and are apparently more accustomed to violence. Their reaction is less out of shock than an attempt to avoid involvement. Nick is more impressed by what he has witnessed and decides that he does not want to have anything to do with the kind of town where such things...
(The entire section is 446 words.)
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Hemingway, known for his representations of manly men who live by a code of honor, parodies his own image of masculinity by making the hit men, Al and Max, clownish figures. The men look the part of stereotypical gangsters, wearing derby hats and tight overcoats and keeping their gloves on when they eat. They also talk tough, announcing their plans to kill Ole, using slang, answering questions with questions, and mocking the masculinity of George, Sam, and Nick. For example, Max comments about George: ‘‘Bright boy can do anything. . . . He can cook and everything. You’d make some girl a nice wife, bright boy.’’ Al describes Sam and Nick, gagged and bound in the kitchen, as ‘‘a couple of girl friends in the convent.’’ Al and Max are counterpoints to Nick Adams, an innocent, who believes he can do something to change the situation by telling Ole about the men. This story marks Nick’s initiation into the world of men and its attendant violence, chaos, and strategies for survival.
Societies have laws to ensure a safe environment for their citizens, to maintain order, and to instill a sense of justice in the populace. The blatant flouting of laws, as in Hemingway’s story, suggests not only that society has deteriorated but also that there is nothing to be done about it. Al and Max do not fear being caught and, indeed, claim to have no stake in killing Andreson, saying they...
(The entire section is 548 words.)