Ernest Miller Hemingway (1899-1961) was an American writer of novels and short stories. Before turning to fiction, he worked as a reporter for the Kansas City Star and served as a First World War ambulance driver before enlisting with the Italian infantry and suffering a wound. After the war, he worked for the Toronto Star and lived for a time in Paris. During the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War, he served as a newspaper correspondent, and then lived in Cuba until 1958 and Idaho until 1961, the year of his death by suicide. His narratives frequently contain masculine motifs, such as bull-fighting (Death in the Afternoon), hunting (The Green Hills of Africa), war (A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls), and fishing (The Old Man and the Sea). All of these motifs derive from Hemingway’s own experiences as a traveler and adventurer. Arguably, he was a better short-story writer than a novelist, although it was his longer works that built his reputation.
"The Killers" was written in the 1920s when organized crime was at its prime during Prohibition (Prohibition in the United States was a national ban on the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol, in place from 1920 to 1933). Chicago was the home of Al Capone (He was an American gangster who led a Prohibition-era crime syndicate. The Chicago Outfit was dedicated to smuggling and bootlegging liquor, and other illegal activities such as prostitution, in Chicago from the early 1920s to 1931.), where Hemingway himself spent time in Chicago as a young man. When things became too dangerous for the mob, they retreated to the suburb of Summit, where "The Killers" takes place. Not long before the story was written, the Chicago mob had killed a popular boxer of the time, Andre Anderson, who'd once knocked Jack Dempsey off his feet, likely Hemingway's source for the Swede. Despite Hemingway's knowledge of organized crime, he omitted much of that background from the story. Hemingway himself said, "That story probably had more left out of it than anything I ever wrote. I left out all Chicago, which is hard to do in 2951 words. Characters
Nick Adams: The protagonist is a teenager of about eighteen or nineteen. In an age of gangsterism and loosened morals, he appears to have an upright character. Adams is a character in twenty-four Hemingway short stories that trace his development from childhood to adulthood. Hemingway loosely based Adams's experiences on his own. Al: He is a hired killer, apparently from Chicago. He wears a black overcoat, derby and gloves. Max: He is Al's partner. He also wears a black overcoat, derby, and gloves. George: He is the counter man in Henry's lunchroom.
Sam: He is the black cook at Henry's lunchroom. Other characters refer to him as "the nigger," a highly offensive term that whites did not hesitate to use in the 1920s. Ole Andreson: He is a former heavyweight boxer whom Al and Max mark for murder. Motorman (Streetcar Conductor): He is a customer who enters Henry's lunchroom but leaves when George tells him that Sam, who is bound and gagged in the kitchen, is not on duty. Customer: He is the man who enters the restaurant and becomes angry when told Sam is unavailable to prepare a meal for him. Other Customers: (1) He is the man for whom George makes a takeout ham-and-egg sandwich while Sam remains gagged in the kitchen. (2) another customer who enters and leaves the restaurant while the hired killers are inside. Mrs. Bell: She is the person who manages Hirsch's rooming house, where Ole Andreson rents a room. Summary
It is getting dark in Summit, a suburban Chicago town, on a day in late autumn. Inside Henry's lunchroom, George is manning the counter when two strangers wearing overcoats, derbies, and gloves walk in and sit before him. Although the clock on the wall behind the counter reads 5:20, it's only 5 p.m. No one in the restaurant ever bothered to reset it. The strangers...