Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Superficially, little happens in “The Battler,” which was initially titled “A Great Little Fighting Machine.” Although the story is little more than a vignette, it is touching in its simplicity and is remarkably psychologically sensitive and penetrating. Three unremarkable people come together by accident. Out of this brief chance encounter emerges a touching story of loyalty and camaraderie similar to John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men (1937), in which George takes care of the retarded Lenny. Ad is not retarded; rather he is addled by the injuries he sustained in his fighting career. The character is based on two prizefighters whom Ernest Hemingway knew—Ad Wolgast and Bat Nelson. Bugs is based on Wolgast’s black trainer.

“The Battler” is one of the many Nick Adams stories for which Hemingway gained early recognition. In these stories, Nick is consistently a catalyst rather than a central figure. He enters a situation, causes something to happen, observes it, then departs relatively unchanged. The story unfolding in “The Battler” belongs to Ad and Bugs. The basic conflict is that of a man, Ad, against the world. Life has not dealt him the best hand, yet his salvation comes from the loyal devotion of his friend, a sensitive, courteous, genuinely caring person. Bugs is unfailingly patient, yet he knows the limits that he must impose on Ad to save him from himself.

“The Battler” demonstrates how two men, each...

(The entire section is 566 words.)