The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio

by Ernest Hemingway

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What key themes does Hemingway explore in "The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio," particularly in relation to life and death?

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The setting of Ernest Hemingway's story "The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio," a hospital, is central to the theme of life as injurious illusion.  In order to distract themselves from their awareness of the illusionary quality of life, the writer listens to the radio, the nun prays and wishes for sainthood, and the gambler, who admits to being "a poor idealist," who is a "victim of illusions," bets on cards, hoping for luck.

As he sits in his room listening to the Mexicans playing music, that music

which has the sinister lightness and defness of so many of the tunes men have gone to die to,

Mr. Frazer thinks about what "opiums" there are that people use to cope with life. And, he decides that revolution is no opium; rather, it is

a catharsis, an ecstacy which can only be prolonged by tyranny.  The opiums come before and after.

For, while revolution purges the soul in an emotional release, unleashing conscious conflicts, one either dies from it, or he must return to the former condition of illusionary life, a condition that demands again another opium.  Frazer decides stoically that after the Mexicans leave, he will have his opium, tequilla, and play the radio so that he can hardly hear his desperate thoughts about life's illusions.  He will endure as the others suffer with him in the hospital.

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