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.