The Code in Hemingway’s “The Killers”

The purpose of this paper is to discuss Hemingway’s Code, as it is illustrated in his short story ‘‘The Killers.’’ The notion of the code in Hemingway’s literature, and in his life as well, has been a preoccupation with critics, primarily because it occupies such an important position in any analysis. The code applies to various characters in Hemingway’s novels and stories, and it is practiced by all of his heroes. One critic has defined the function of the code as consisting of ‘‘two lessons: the ability to make realistic promises to one-self, and the ability to forgive oneself one’s past.’’(1) In fact, the code seems to have a far more philosophical origin in Hemingway’s idea that man’s freedom is predicated upon his ability to control himself, to act stoically, to accept life with a measure of courage and dignity which gives it significance even when it is tragic. The code for Hemingway and for his characters transcends and supplants the moral rules of religion and natural law. The value system he suggests is certainly subjective, but, he argues, not arbitrary: ‘‘when they have learned to appreciate values through experience, what they seek is honesty and true, not tricked, emotion. . . .’’(2) According to Hemingway, then, those who have found their own code, and are living it, will know that their actions are good, and that they feel like complete humans.

‘‘The Killers’’ has several characters who seem to live more or less by the code. The Killers themselves, though stoical and self-possessed, would seem to come under the heading of those who are ‘‘too flabby in their self-indulgence, too susceptible to a variety of illusions concerning themselves and life to be allowed to take over the responsibilities of creating their own lives.’’(3) Yet they have a code nevertheless, one which Nick finds, to his horror, even the hunted man Ole Andreson accepts. Andreson seems to be much like the killers, except that his role in the drama played out by the rules of the code is to be passive. In the end it is young Nick Adams, Hemingway’s archetypical hero, who expresses the code in its most noble form. He is unable to accept the terrible inevitability of...

(The entire section is 904 words.)

Reticence and Mental Avoidance: Keys to Escape for Hemingway’s Heroes

(Short Stories for Students)

In Ernest Hemingway’s short stories, the protagonists frequently resort to reticence and mental avoidance when confronted with life’s...

(The entire section is 1062 words.)

“The Killers’’ and “Big Two-Hearted River’’: Striving for Order in a Chaotic World

(Short Stories for Students)

Ernest Hemingway’s recurring hero, Nick Adams, strives to maintain order in a chaotic world in both “The Killers’’ and “Big...

(The entire section is 851 words.)

Waiting in “The Killers”

(Short Stories for Students)

Rife with images of waiting, ‘‘The Killers’’ embodies a range of Hemingway’s ideas on the human condition, from his notion of...

(The entire section is 1249 words.)

Hemingway’s “The Killers”

(Short Stories for Students)

‘‘The Killers’’ can be seen as a concise and dramatic representation of certain aspects of Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity...

(The entire section is 1659 words.)

The Hit in Summit: Ernest Hemingway’s “The Killers”

(Short Stories for Students)

After an earlier unsuccessful attempt to write the story, Hemingway was finally able to set down ‘‘The Killers’’ on a day in which he...

(The entire section is 1312 words.)

Vaudeville Philosophers: ‘‘The Killers’’

(Short Stories for Students)

Kenneth S. Lynn’s biography of Hemingway states that

behind ‘‘The Killers’’ lay some obvious influences: Hemingway’s firsthand acquaintance with petty criminals in Kansas City, his close observation of the men entering the back room in the Venice Cafe, and the steady attention he paid in the 20s to journalistic accounts, in European as well as in American newspapers, of the blood-drenched careers of Chicago hoodlums.

Behind the story also is Hemingway’s acquaintance by 1926 with vaudeville and with the idea of vaudeville. The connection has long been noted: in 1959, Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren mentioned the...

(The entire section is 5633 words.)