Style and Technique

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

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

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"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,...

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Literary Style

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

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Literary Qualities

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

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Social Sensitivity

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...

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Compare and Contrast

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

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Topics for Discussion

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?...

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Ideas for Reports and Papers

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...

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Topics for Further Study

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

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Related Titles / Adaptations

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

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Media Adaptations

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

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What Do I Read Next?

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

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For Further Reference

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

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Bibliography and Further Reading

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

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(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.)