The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio

by Ernest Hemingway

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In "The Gambler, the Nun and the Radio," what is the significance of listing all the hospital patients and their injuries?

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Throughout the short story, Hemingway examines the universal nature of suffering and explores the various ways that individuals choose to alleviate their suffering. Hemingway describes several patients and their different ailments throughout the short story. Cayetano was shot twice in his abdomen, which leads to paralysis in his leg. The Russian was also shot, and Mr. Frazer is recovering from a broken leg after falling off of a horse. Later on in the story, Hemingway writes that a sixteen-year-old boy with a broken leg is at the hospital, along with a carpenter who has broken his wrists and ankles, and a rodeo rider with a broken back. When Mr. Frazer contemplates the Mexican man's comment of how religion is the opiate of the poor, he begins to think about the various opiates people subscribe to that provide individuals respite throughout their difficult lives. Hemingway's insistence on mentioning the patient's ailments coincides with the theme of necessary illusions that individuals use to comfort themselves during their lives. Essentially, to live is to suffer, and the patients' ailments at the hospital represent the various evils that plague humanity.

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In Hemingway's tale of suffering, loneliness, and endurance, "The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio," Mr. Frazer acts as the recording consciousness for what one critic terms "the essential disinfranchisement" of the residents of the hospital brought in "around midnight," symbolically the darkness hour.  The listing of the patients, those who are injured, points to the plot of Hemingway's story which is affliction, or injury.  This is what life is--a continual injury for everyone.  And, so, it is a futile experiment, one that must not be thought about.

The gambler confesses to being the victim of illusions as he is a poor idealist. Mr. Frazer decides that the connection of all the patients and the nun is that they each have an opium:

Religion is the opium of the people.....Yes, and music is the opium of the people....And now economics is the opium of the people; along with patriotism the opium of the people in Italy and Germany.....Along with these went gambling, and opium of the people if there ever was one, one of the oldest.  Ambition was another....What was the real, the actual, opium of the people?....Of course; bread was the opium of the people.

Of course, bread is symbolic of life. For Frazer life itself is illusionary.  And, so he plays the radio so that he can hardly hear his thoughts.

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