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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 456

“The Battler” is a short story written by famed American novelist and journalist Ernest Hemingway, which was published as a part of his 1925 collection of short stories titled In Our Time. The story is written in third person and is narrated by an unknown narrator. It cover several themes, such as: chance encounters, acquaintanceship, friendship, equality, and the people’s hardships in the society.

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The main protagonist of the story is Nick Adams, who is a character Hemingway often used in his writings and is partially based on his own appearance and experiences. A brakeman gives Nick a black eye and throws him off a train. Hungry, and annoyed that he is in the middle of nowhere, he starts limping along the rail tracks, until he sees a fire. He goes to the fire and encounters Al, and later Bugs. Al is a former boxer with a misshapen face, who has gradually lost his mind after many fights in the ring and after the media falsely accused him of marrying his sister. He is friends with an African American man named Bugs, whom he met in jail and with whom he travels across the country.

Bugs invites Nick to join them for dinner, which turns into a messy fiasco. Bugs warns Nick not to give Al the knife, thus infuriating Al to the point that he almost attacks Nick, but is stopped when Bugs hits him with a blackjack. It is noteworthy to mention that Bugs does this gently and calmly, which might suggest that he is used to such behavior from Al and knows how to deal with him, even if it means using physical force. After that, Bugs apologizes on behalf of his friend and explains how Al went crazy. He advises Nick to leave before Al regains consciousness. Thus, Nick gets up and heads for the next town.

An interesting element of the story is the fact that all three man are connected through their hardships. Al has made it through all of his fights and managed to continue living his life despite his failed marriage. Bugs faces racism and dissemination constantly, but he refuses to conform to the social stigmas and the laws of segregation. He even asks Nick to eat with him and Al, which would have been considered a bold and almost unheard of action during the 1920s, as black people didn’t really interact with white people. Nick is traveling alone and gets thrown off a train, and he almost gets attacked by a former boxer. All three men are, essentially, battlers who are determined to carry on.

The story was well-received, however, it did gain some criticism in recent times, mainly because of Hemingway's use of racial slurs.

Style and Technique

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 317

Known for his clipped, direct style, uncomplicated sentence structure, and simple vocabulary, Hemingway demonstrates in “The Battler” the effectiveness and appropriateness of depicting characters on the social fringe, essentially antiheroes, as unostentatiously as he can. Few of his sentences exceed ten or twelve words. Simple sentences predominate and, when Hemingway uses a compound sentence, it is usually held together by a simple “and.”

During his post-World War I residence in Paris, Hemingway learned a great deal about style from Gertrude Stein, with whom he had a close friendship in the early 1920’s. Stein, a careful observer of how ordinary people actually use language, experimented with dialogue and, especially in her experimental novel Three Lives (1909), captured the authentic means by which common, working-class people communicate. In so doing, she presented endless repetitions, often to the point of exasperating her readers. Hemingway’s “The Battler” uses similar techniques. For example, Bugs tells Nick that Ad’s wife “Looked enough like him to be twins,” then, within half a page, repeats this information in almost the same words. Some authors would intrude on the actual language and would refine the dialogue to eliminate the repetition. Hemingway, however, prefers to allow his characters to speak the way real people speak, even if they repeat themselves.

In shaping his dialogue, Hemingway often avoids forms of the verb “to say.” Rather, he uses such verbs as “advised,” “warned,” “finished,” “asked,” “smiled,” or “came out.” He draws attention to his most significant dialogue by using this device, reserving phrases such as “he said” for the more ordinary dialogue.

Hemingway developed a style unique among American writers, one easily distinguishable by its economy and directness. This style, an amalgamation of much that he learned from Gertrude Stein and of his experience as a journalist, has had a significant impact on more recent novelists, many of whom have striven to imitate Hemingway’s controlled rhetorical simplicity.


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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 186

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