Men Without Women was first published in 1927 by Charles Scribner's Sons. It was Hemingway's second short story collection. Following In Our Time (1925) and The Sun Also Rises (1926), Men Without Women solidified Hemingway as one of America's most promising new writers. This collection encompasses many of Hemingway's common themes: humanity's competitive nature and/or culture, loss of innocence, war, and the inevitability of aging. It also illustrates Hemingway's style of brevity, usually called minimalism, both in dialogue and description. Many of the settings of these fourteen stories are Italy and Spain. This was undoubtedly influenced by Hemingway's time in Europe during and after WWI.
"The Killers," "Hills Like White Elephants," and "In Another Country" have historically been the standouts of this collection in terms of critical acclamations and popularity. Subsequently, others such as "The Undefeated," "Banal Story" and "Fifty Grand" have gained more critical recognition. "The Killers" is about Nick Adams, Hemingway's major recurring character, who overhears two hired killers planning a hit on someone he knows. "Hills Like White Elephants," one of Hemingway's only stories in which a woman plays a primary role, concerns a discussion between a man and a woman regarding whether or not she should have an abortion. The man tells her it is an easy operation, because he wishes they could go back to their carefree lifestyle. She eventually concedes, but it is clear that she, at least, will not be the same: not able to whimsically sit and drink and imagine what the hills look like. "In Another Country" is about an injured soldier and an injured major. The major has a moment of weakness wherein, after hearing his wife has died, he berates the soldier telling him not to marry, because he will someday "lose it." This story, more than any other in the collection, captures the casualties of war in the major's disposition. At the end of the story, the major, aware of his badly injured hand stares out the window, ignoring the photographs of rehabilitated hands.
"The Undefeated" begins the collection and is the story of an over-the-hill bullfighter's last hurrah. In the end, his performance is merely satisfactory, and this theme of "man against time" will become a recurring theme for Hemingway, perhaps most notably in The Old Man and the Sea. "To-day is Friday" is a short play featuring three Roman soldiers having a drink, following a crucifixion (presumably Jesus'). "Banal Story" is both a tribute to the great bullfighter, Maera, as well as a diatribe against trite writing and pseudo-intellectualism. "Fifty Grand," following the theme of "The Undefeated" and "A Pursuit Race," is about a boxer who bets against himself, knowing he cannot win: though he almost does win on a technicality. "A Simple Enquiry" stands out, somewhat provocatively: a dialogue in which a major subtly propositions his adjutant.
The title of this collection is something Hemingway thought of at the last minute (he had wanted to use something from the Bible). The overall emphasis is not just on masculinity but on harsh realism and a style of writing that is as compact as it can be. Maybe the most enduring quality in these stories is the proximity to modern, real-life speech. In many of his dialogues, he writes with the brevity, allusiveness, and ambiguity of real speech. The tone seems to manifest itself in the exchange. Some critics have attacked Hemingway's misogynistic tendencies and they have criticized his characters as dull-witted, proletariat, and lacking conscious complexity. But given the influence Hemingway's laconic style has had and continues to have, one might say these critics are classicists, elitists, or simply missing the point. The rawness of real speech and the concision of description is the point. Superfluity can be the tool of the insecure intellectual. Hemingway once referred to himself as the "Henry James of the People." He prided himself on creating both bookish and crude characters: neither more complex than the other and both descriptive examples of real life.