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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

“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.

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.

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