Despite its title, the main character of Hemingway's "The Gambler, the nun, and the Radio"--if there truly is a main character--is Mr. Frazier, who acts as a recording consciousness of what one critic calls "the essential disfranchisement" of the residents in the hospital, whom "They brought...in around midnight."
Among the injured brought into the hospital, there is a fatalistic resignation in the Cayetano, the gambler, shot in the stomach, who decides that he simply has no luck and accepts his injury,
"I am a poor idealist. I am the victim of illusions.....I am a cheap card play, only that."
The first bullet intended for him has been intercepted by the Russian. So, it seems that he has no luck, either.
When the nun, who prays to be a saint and is separated from the world in her spiritual alienation, invites Mexicans to visit Cayetano at the hospital, they later come into Frazer's room. He offers them drinks, but one refuses saying that he would suffer a headache if he were to drink. Then, he tells Frazer that he does not trust those in the religious life such as the nun, saying that he believes in nothing, and quoting Marx,"Religion is the opium of the people." His statement gives Frazer cause for thought after everyone leaves, even though he has the radio on to keep from thinking.
Yes, Frazer decides, he believes that
religion is the opium of the people....and music is the opium of the people....now economics is the opium of the people; along with patriotism the opium of the people in Italy and Germany....But drink was a sovereign opium of the people,...Althugh some prefer the radio, another opium of the people...Along with these went gambling, and opium of the people if there ever was one, one of the oldest....But was was the resl, the actual, opium of the people?...Of course; bread was the opium of the people....
Bread is symbolic of life. For Frazer, then, life itself is an illusion, an opium. Only death is real, for it has no intermediaries to help with the futile operation of existence. All are but patients, who wait for the end with drink, and gambling, prayer, and music as opiums to soothe their way to the final injury after life that is itself an injury.