Ernest Hemingway is known as one of the greatest American writers of the twentieth century. He expressed on his writing courage and compassion in a world of violence and death. His combination of fiction and heroic code behavior defined him as one of the great writers of our time. Considered a master of the understood prose style, which became his trademark. His narrow range of characters and his thematic focus on violence and “machismo”, have led some critics to regard his fiction world as shallow and insensitive, “The Killers” is not an exception.
The plot is set in Henry's lunchroom in Summit, Illinois, right outside of Chicago during a 1920's winter. The two hit men, Al and Max, want to order the evening meal, but they are too early and cannot get the dinners with an entree, vegetable, and mashed potatoes. They can only be served sandwiches or breakfast items. They make fun of the place and voice the opinion that the only thing to do in Summit is to come to the lunch-room for supper at six o'clock. Finishing his meal, Al orders Nick and Sam, the Black cook, to the kitchen, where he ties them up. Meanwhile, Max boasts to George that he and Al have been hired to kill Ole Andreson, an aging boxer, who, they’ve heard, eats dinner there every night.When the boxer fails to show up in the diner, Al and Max leave, and George hurries to untie Nick and Sam. He then suggests that Nick warn Andreson, who lives in a nearby boarding house. When the boxer hears about Al and Max’s plan to kill him, he’s unconcerned; he’s tired, he says, of running. Nick leaves and returns to the diner, where he tells George and Sam that he’s leaving Summit because he can’t bear to think about a man waiting, passively, to be killed by a couple of hired killers.
“The Killers” is mainly based on dialouge between the different characters, with some surrounding descreptions. Hemingway descibes Max and Al as stereotypical gangsters, in their tight overcoats and derby hats they is actually said to look like a vaudeville team. And Hemingway has them talk like gangsters as well. Their speech is peppered with insults and slang, also they never answer a question directly. Dialogue also characterizes the other players in the story as well. For example, when Sam speaks, he makes it clear that he does not want to be involved in any way, and when Nick speaks, he expresses his youth and innocence.
Ironically, the story is not about “the killers,” nor is it about Ole Andreson, the prizefighter who it is assumed is killed. Rather, the story is about Nick Adams’ confrontation with evil, represented by the two gangsters, Al and Max. Nick is a typical Hemingway hero who is learning ‘‘the code.’’ Hemingway’s ‘‘code hero’’ is someone who is honorable, courageous, and adventurous and who exhibits grace under pressure. Note that we don’t even know why the killers are murdering Andreson; George thinks that the prizefighter must have betrayed or double-crossed some gamblers. Ole simply says to Nick that he “got in wrong.” The main concern, however, has little to do with Andreson or the killers. We as readers are far more concerned with Nick Adams’ exposure to evil and how he reacts to it.
The episode in the diner is Nick Adams’ first encounter with evil - killing done simply for the sake of killing by men hired to kill, who have no family, business, or emotional ties to their victim. Neither Al nor Max has even met Andreson, yet they plan to kill him coldly and impersonally. Here Nick’s deep sense of responsibility is evident in his need to warn Andreson of the impending danger, and he is confused by Andreson’s passive attitude. Ole Andreson, who once used to fight for money, now refuses to fight for his one life! Because he clearly knows that the hired killers are going to murder him, but he has lost the will to fight. Given up his one life. He says that he is tired of running, and it seems like he recognizes that in the final end he cannot control is own life, nor death.
Nick’s feeling of helplessness after his confentration with evil drives him to flee from town, surrending to the evil himself, breaking with the code-hero.
Summing up then we can say that the story and the direct dialouge underline the everlasting themes of death and despair. Humans conftrontation with evil and even more important the feeling of not beeing able to control your own life.
Sources: http://www.enotes.com/killers/6020 (code hero)