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The Killers

The Killers


by Ernest Hemingway

Tools of Characterization

Character Analysis


We were mostly interested in Andreson’s first name, "Ole," especially when we think about the fact that Hemingway wrote the story while holed up in a hotel room in Madrid because bull fights had been cancelled, and, actually, his original title for the story was "The Matadors." If you want to think about "The Killers" as a metaphor for bull fighting, it looks like the killers are the matadors and Ole is the bull. This makes the whole murder seem rather impersonal, which is kind of how we’re inclined to think of a mob hit anyway.

Speech and Dialogue

It’s Hemingway, what did you expect? We know all about the killers’ conflicting traits (the comic and the deadly) through their dialogue. We know about Andreson’s passivity because of his language. We know that Sam and George have long ago accepted the evil of the world because of the way they talk about the killers after the fiasco has ended, and we know that Nick hasn’t because of his declaration that he’s getting out of town.

The Killers’ Mocking Tone

Al and Max may be tough guys, but they are so in an almost comic way. Their constant bickering, bantering, and sarcasm is a great indication of the dual nature we talk more about in the killers’ character analysis. Just think Joe Pesci in Goodfellas ("Am I a clown? Am I here to amuse you?") Like Ray Liotta, we don’t know whether to laugh or run for the hills. Just look at the moment when George brings out their supper and asks who ordered what. "Don’t you remember?" asks Al, and for all we know he could pull out a gun if he doesn’t like the answer he gets. And while that’s not so fun for George, it’s great for pulling the reader in.

Ole’s Pathetic, Repetitive Apathy

Actually, that really says most of it. Look at these lines: "There isn’t anything I can do about it," "That wouldn’t do any good," "There ain’t anything to do," "There ain’t anything to do now," and of course, just to mix it up a bit, "There ain’t anything to do." Through dialogue, Andreson is characterized as inactive and defeated. And it’s kind of hard to miss.


Nick is contrasted with Ole because the former is a guy who acts, while the latter is a guy who, well, doesn’t act. First, Adams is the man to go see Andreson. Of the three men in the diner, he’s the one to actually do something to try and stop the killing. Then, after Ole has made it clear he’s given up, Nick ends the story by declaring action: "I’m going to get out of this town." Ole, on the other hand, not only refuses to act against the killers, but refuses to act in accordance with fate: he can’t even get up to leave his room. While he won’t run away from death, he also lacks the will to go towards it. Inaction at its finest.