Explain how the story "The Killers" represents modernism in style and structure.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Certainly, in Ernest Hemingway's "The Killers" there is a sense of disharmony, violence, and ambivalence. For, the two men who come to kill Ole Andreson are parodies of the stereotypical gangsters and talk in a nonsensical manner that is in sharp contrast to their deadly intentions; after encountering these gratuitously violent caractures of men, Nick, the sometimes narrator and character in the story, becomes uncertain about life's values. Indeed, there are elements of Modernism in Hemingway's story:

  • Themes of Meaningless and Alienation, Violence, and Disillusionment

The two hit men come to town to kill Ole Andreson simply as "a favor to a friend."  "Dressed like twins" in stereotypical mob attire, the two men prattle and are gratuitously cruel to George, Nick, and Al.  When Nick is sent to tell Andreson that two men have come to kill him, Andreson hears the news with a passive acceptance, "There ain't anything to do now."  When Nick returns to the cafe, the men realize that they can do nothing for Ole.  "It's a hell of a thing," George can only say. Faced with this senseless violence from which Andreson has no escape, a disillusioned Nick decides that he "will get out of this town," adding that he cannot bear to think of Andreson just waiting for death.  George can only urge that he "better not think about it" as he knows no meaning can be found to this violence.

  • A style of ambiguity with cryptic dialogue, an "effaced narrator," the past converging upon the present, and fragmented visions of life as the inner self that feels alienated struggles against the outer world

The combination of a narrator who disappears into the character of Nick creates a certain ambiguity.  Then, Nick, who is a young man faced with people from an ambiguous past that produces fragmented episodes in the lunch counter and with Andreson in his room, finds himself uncertain about the present and its lack of direction.  In a search for meaning and an escape from the overpowering violence, he vows to "get out of this town." Nick feels alienated as his inner self that values honor and honesty, such as that he recognizes in Andreson, whom Mrs. Bell speaks of as "gentle," conflict with the outer world represented by the two parodic gangsters.  This uneasiness with the present and the resulting allusions to the past are also part of Nick's sense of alienation.