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The tone of Ernest Hemingway's "The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio" is one of futility. For, the inmates of the hospital all share in a certain displacement from life and they sense the uselessness of trying to create any real existence. Their wounds are the afflictions which present them with their mortality. The gambler Cayetano Ruiz admits to being "a victim of illusions" as he has worked towns on the outskirts and "never done any work with his hands." Frazier, a writer, has never really written anything; instead, in his borrowed room he writes a parody of a song.
Life is a futile experiment with finite limitations in which people seek to find some meaning, but resort to some opium such as prayer in the hopes of sainthood as the nun does. Cayetano hopes for some luck, and Mr. Frazer avoids thinking to shut out his hopelessness. Alone in his room, Frazer decides after talking with the musicians,
What was the real, the actual, opium of the people? He knew it very well. It was gone just a little way around the corner in that well-lighted part of his mind that was there after two or more drinks in the evening....What was it? Of course; bread was the opium of the people.
As one critic writes, for the characters of Hemingway's story there is an "ephemerality of selfhood" and the final "dispossession" is the death that is hinted at in Frazer's conclusion that "Bread is the opium of the people"; life is illusionary, injurious, a spiritually futile experiment. All that can be done is to avoid thinking as Mr. Frazer does, existing on the "outskirts" as Cayetano says, and enduring.
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