Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The typical Hemingway style is evident in this story. Almost entirely narrated in an objective style, with very little interpretation by the author or any but the most rudimentary descriptions, Hemingway’s story makes the reader interpret the significance of the action. Those descriptions that are given are sparse and designed only to establish the mood, such as the few details about the gangsters wearing tight overcoats, derby hats, and gloves. The story is developed through dialogue in a series of short dramatic scenes.

In the dialogue, Hemingway uses a spare, terse style, typical of conversation. Much of the dialogue is concerned with trivial things, with the result that the seriousness of the central incident is consistently undercut. For example, the two gangsters order dinners, and George tells them that dinners will not be available until six o’clock. They then haggle over what time it is and haggle more before they decide to order eggs and bacon and eggs and ham. Ultimately, this conflict between the reality of murder and the casual, matter-of-fact attitude toward it that typifies both the killers and the citywise bystanders is central to the story: Although the other characters, even the doomed Andreson, accept this state of affairs, Nick struggles against it.

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

When Hemingway wrote ‘‘The Killers’’ in 1926, the United States was at the height of the Prohibition...

(The entire section is 680 words.)


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

"The Killers" is set in Henry's lunchroom in Summit, Illinois, right outside of Chicago during a 1920's winter. The two hit men, Al and Max,...

(The entire section is 195 words.)

Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

Dialogue, the conversation between two or more characters, is a primary tool of characterization. Writers...

(The entire section is 497 words.)

Literary Qualities

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Hemingway relies heavily on dialogue in this story. The tough-guy language of the hired guns develops their characters, but the reader must...

(The entire section is 197 words.)

Social Sensitivity

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Although this story has an undertone of violence, there is none except the tying up of Nick Adams and the cook. The murder never occurs, but...

(The entire section is 104 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Short Stories for Students)

  • 1920s: Al Capone runs a murderous gang in Chicago, trafficking in alcohol and illegal gambling...

(The entire section is 127 words.)

Topics for Discussion

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Hemingway describes the hit men in detail. What are the hit men wearing? Why is it important to the story to know how they are dressed?...

(The entire section is 185 words.)

Ideas for Reports and Papers

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. The menu items in Henry's lunch-room are mentioned several times. Why does Hemingway devote nearly two pages to food choices and what is...

(The entire section is 215 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

  • In groups, research the history of crime in Chicago in the 1920s, paying particular attention to Al Capone and Dutch Schultz. Report your...

(The entire section is 267 words.)

Related Titles / Adaptations

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

"The Killers" was first published in the March, 1927, Scribner's Magazine and by October of that year it was included in an anthology,...

(The entire section is 150 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Short Stories for Students)

  • Director Robert Siodmak’s 1946 film The Killers is the first adaptation of Hemingway’s story for the screen. It stars Burt...

(The entire section is 75 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

  • Raymond Carver is just one modern writer who was influenced by Hemingway’s style. Carver’s collection of stories

(The entire section is 202 words.)

For Further Reference

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Baker, Carlos. Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story. New York: Scribner, 1969. Baker corresponded with Hemingway and clarified many...

(The entire section is 200 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)

Brooks, Cleanth, Jr., and Robert Penn Warren. '‘‘The Killers,’ Ernest Hemingway: Interpretation.’’...

(The entire section is 420 words.)


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Benson, Jackson J., ed. New Critical Approaches to the Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1990.

Berman, Ronald. Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and the Twenties. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2001.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Ernest Hemingway. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2005.

Burgess, Anthony. Ernest Hemingway. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1999.

Flora, Joseph M. Ernest Hemingway: A Study of the Short Fiction. Boston: Twayne, 1989.

Hays, Peter L. Ernest Hemingway. New...

(The entire section is 186 words.)