by Ernest Hemingway
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
At the start of the story, George tells the killers that dinner won’t be available until six. He then looks at the clock and declares that it’s five. Max makes a point of saying, actually, it’s 5:20, and George has to explain that the clock is fast.
FIRST of all, if he knows the clock is fast, why hasn’t he changed it? Second of all, 5:00 or 5:20, who really cares if dinner isn’t ready either way? We’re pretty much with Al when he says, "to hell with the clock."
But, unfortunately, that is not it for the clock. It makes several more appearances during the rest of the tension-filled wait for Ole, and every time we’re told what time it is we have to wonder whether we’re talking about real time or the fast time that’s read off the clock. We just don’t know. Ole usually comes in at six – according to which clock? The men leave at 7:00 – but it’s not really 7:00 if they’re going by the lunchroom time. The phrase "George looked at the clock" is repeated three times in the story, at 6:15, 6:20, 6:55, and we never know what time it really is.
It could be that we’re made to feel the same frustrating uncertainty as the characters and that’s that. It could be, as one daring scholar, Quentin E. Martin, suggested, "The Killers" is a dramatic representation of Einstein’s theory of relativity. It could also just be more of the "appearances aren’t what they seem" motif. But before you move on from the clock, think about this slightly weird passage:
At six-fifty-five George said: "He’s not coming."
Two other people had been in the lunchroom. Once George had gone out to the kitchen and made a ham-and-egg sandwich "to go" that a man wanted to take with him. Inside the kitchen he saw Al, his derby hat tipped back, sitting on a stool beside the wicket with the muzzle of a sawed-off shotgun resting on the ledge. Nick and the cook were back to back in the corner, a towel tied in each of their mouths. George had cooked the sandwich, wrapped it up in oiled paper, put it in a bag, brought it in, and the man had paid for it and gone out.
What the heck is up with that? At 6:55, our hearts should be in our throats. If Andreson isn’t coming, then the killers are going to check out, and if the killers are going to check out, they might not want to leave three witnesses behind. Something big is about to happen. And then… …. we get a flashback. A flashback! When we’re dying to know what happens next, Hemingway make us go back in time. What for?? And what does this have to do with the clock?