An essay on “The Killers” by Tomasz Renkiel

The door of Henry’s lunch-room opened and two men came in. They sat down at the counter.

At the first glance, the opening sentence of Hemingway’s story The Killers seems to be eradicated form the longer context. Probably the setting of the tale is the small town somewhere and the lunch-room ( or a small restaurant, a pub ) on the outskirts of this town, where they all come and eat the big dinner. The place, where all the inhabitants of this town, all the common people meet every evening, order their meal and hardly pay any attention to what everyone else is doing. There, any curiosity does not exist at all. They vary from each other, though still they come to the same place and they all do the same thing – eat the diner. The diversity of separate parts in one place, at one time, with an average, but customary goal – to have diner. For some of us pure coincidence, for others – a sort of standard behaviour, something typical of the small towns’ communities. Anonymity within the crowd, though Hemingway mentioned a couple of names, but only those being of a peculiar importance for the plot of the whole story.

The two men entering the lunch-room sit behind the counter and … They are undecided. Undecided when it comes to order a meal; decided and strongly convinced to do what they came there for. Paradoxically, the prosaic, earthly-minded matter fill them with uncertainty much more than the anticipation for someone to be killed in the short period of time. What is typical of them – if we consider them as murderers, of course – is their state of being extremely nervous, the state that usually causes deep uncertainty. Moreover, their nervousness intensifies and grows stronger since they can not get what they want. That’s the dinner. You can get that at six o’clock – kindly explains George, the waiter. It is not a ‘dinner time’ yet and everything in this world has its right place; even a diner in Henry’s lunch-room.

They sit and eat their meals with their gloves on, the feature that differs them from another clients so much that George stares at them as if there was something wrong with them. And that is the turning point of the whole story. From that particular moment, the preparation for the crime starts. Max and Al take control over the people in the bar, being more and more rude, unkind and sort of ironic though as emotional and serious as every murderer can be. Fooling the service of the bar gives them a great pleasure and the whole groundwork to arrange the crime looks like scene from the widely read criminal story; as if the operating personnel was a group of models the photographer would like to take the picture of. It is a step-by-step process, a surgical operation thoroughly prepared, conducted and experimented with every necessary detail, leaving nothing wasted.

Nobody can say for sure, why they want to kill the man known as Ole Anderson, a big Swede. Even those two. We are killing him for a friend. Just to oblige a friend. But unfortunately for them, he does not come at all, as if he knew the very consequences of his conceivable coming. In fact, he did. And for him, there was nothing he could do about it. He was sitting in his room of solitude, anticipating something he would get, something inevitable. He was not even able to go out, as if he was conscious of THEIR presence in the town. He tired himself with all that running around. He was probably a refugee, someone mixed up in something in Chicago, running away all the time. Maybe. At the end of the story Nick and George speculates about the reasons of this terrible mess connected with Ole Anderson. It is disputable whether the fact that he was in the ring contributed to it, or that those two men had something to do with it directly. It is only a theory, a hypothesis never to be checked, or put into practice. Only he, Ole Anderson knew what it was all about.

The Killers

This post is part of The Hemingway Collection, an archive of essays, images, and hyperlinks to interesting articles about the great American author.

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There are 5 comments on this post

  1. great essay!

  2. I find little here of much insight into the text. It seems to pretty much just summarize the movement of the story.

  3. I read the translation of this story in spanish, very good psychological essay

  4. All you do is summarize – Not helpful or insightful. — cyuny@ **** a ****

  5. What is this essay about? I couldn’t figure it out and I think the same is true for you. No critical thought, whatsoever.

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