Study Guide for Hemingway’s The Killers (1927)

Study Guide for Hemingway’s The Killers (1927)

Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)

  • In “Hemingway on Writing”(1957, College English), Robert C. Hart calls Ernest Hemingway “a chronicler of the the lost generation” (p. 314).  Do some research about the Lost Generation writers and discuss in what ways this concept helps you understand Hemingway’s “The Killers”. (Suggested text: “The generation that wasn’t lost” by Malcolm Cowley, The English Journal, Vol 33, No. 2, Jun 1991)
  • According to Quentin E. Martin (“Explicator”, 1993, Vol. 52, Issue 1), Hemingway’s story can be interpreted as “a concise and dramatic representation of certain aspects of Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity and Werner Heisenberg’s principle of indeterminacy (or uncertainty)” (p. 53). Discuss how this argument is possible.
  • In “Adaptations: From Short Story to Big Screen” (2005), Stephanie Harrison argues that “the effect Hemingway achieves in his fiction is through absence, not presence” (p. 414). Harrison also quotes Gabriel Garcia Marquez who says that Hemingway’s stories “give the impression something is missing, and this is precisely what confers their mystery and beauty” (as cited in Harrison). Discuss Hemingway’s style of writing in “The Killers” in relation to Harrison and Marquez’s views.
  • Hemingway’s story is full of false impressions.  For example, there is confusion about time in the opening moments of the story. Identify the other false impressions in the story and discuss what they signify in relation to the nature of the universe.
  • Comment on the physical description of the two killers: why are they depicted as identical and clownish?
  • What does the name of the town, Summit, suggest?
  • Why do you think the killers use the expression “bright boy” very often?
  • What is the significance of the following quote:  (Max tells George) “You ought to go to the movies more. The movies are fine for a bright boy like you.”
  • Identify how Sam, George and Nick react when when they find out the killers are after Ole Andreson. Then discuss what these reactions reveal about these three characters.
  • Why do you think there are repeated references to “doors” and “walls” in the story?
  • What is the symbolic value of the name Ole Andreson?
  • In what way(s) could Ole Anderson’s being a prizefighter have a symbolic value?
  • Why do you think Ole Anderson refuses to take action?
  • Examine the significance of Chicago as mentioned in the story.
  • Analyze the last five lines of the story: Why does Nick decide to leave the town? What does he discover at the end of the story? How does George react when Nick says he wants to leave the town?
  • What message(s) does the story convey as far as the nature of the world is concerned?
  • Ernest Hemingway’s short story “The Killers” has attracted not only readers but also filmmakers. In 1946 Robert Siodmak turned it into a film starring Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner. In 1956 when he was a student, Andrei Tarkovsky made a 19-minute short film of “The Killers”. And in 1964, Don Siegel directed the third film version of the story. The Criterion Collection presents all these versions on a 2-disc DVD box set. Watch these three versions and discuss how faithful each film is to Hemingway’s story.

© Ali Nihat Eken, Istanbul, November 2008

Useful links: About Hemingway 1 / About Hemingway 2 / About Hemingway 3 / A Case of Identity / The Nobel Prize in Literature 1954 / PBS: American Masters/ A Hemingway Retrospective by CNN /


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