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The Killers

The Killers

by Ernest Hemingway

Ole Andreson

Character Analysis

Ole Andreson is a bit of a let down. Seeing as two hitmen have come to town for the sole purposes of gunning him down, we sort of expected someone tough, intimidating, and dynamic. And instead, we get a big man lying down on a bed, face turned to the wall, ready to die.

For Nick, too, this is a jarring vision. So much so, in fact, that some scholars argue it is the sight of Ole – not his exposure to the killers – that really affects him. But we’re not talking about Nick here, we’re talking about Andreson. What could have driven this man to lie helpless on a bed and wait for death?

Since Hemingway isn’t explicit about the backstory, we have to fill in the details ourselves to figure out how Andreson got where he is in "The Killers." We know he used to be an ex-prizefighter, and a seasoned one at that, as Mrs. Bell indicates his scarred face. George offers that he "must have got mixed up in something in Chicago," and when we combine that with Max’s declaration that they’ve never met Ole and are in fact "killing him for a friend," we realize that the Chicago mob has sent two hitmen to gun him down. As far as the reasoning behind this, it’s safe to assume that Andreson either didn’t go along with fixing a fight or promised to fix a fight and then didn’t, à la Bruce Willis in Pulp Fiction. (Along with illegal booze, gambling was a central mafia racket.) Either way, he pissed off someone important and now he’s on the kill list.

Now to talk any more about Andreson we have to get into the so-called "Hemingway hero’s code," which basically says that in order to be a real man you have to be stoic and strong man of action who accepts the difficulties of the world. Nick is a Hemingway hero. Andreson is not. Wait a minute, you say, "accepts the difficulties of the world" – isn’t that what Andreson is doing? Yes, sure, accepting the fact of his death would be a stoic and manly act, but look at what Andreson is doing: lying in his bed and staring at the wall. He’s not going out to meet death with a courageous air, he’s lying helpless in the boarding house and can’t even bring himself to look Nick in the eye. "I just can’t make up my mind to go out," he says. "I been here all day." And that’s where Ole goes wrong.

OR, maybe it’s that Ole knows something we don’t. Jump back to the first scene for a minute and look at this dialogue:

"What’s it all about?"

"Hey, Al," Max called, "bright boy wants to know what it’s all about."

[…]

"What do you think it’s all about?"

[…]

"Hey, Al, bright boy says he wouldn’t say what he thinks it’s all about."


And now look at what Nick reports when he comes back to the diner:

"Did you tell him about it?" George asked.

"Sure. I told him but he knows what it’s all about."


Apparently, Ole is the only guy in "The Killers" who knows what it’s all about. And short of the hokey-pokey, we’re thinking it might have something to do with the futility of action. Andreson is an ex-prizefighter, after all – if anyone knows about fighting, it’s this guy. And yet he’s concluded, presumably from years of fighting and of "running around," that "there ain’t anything to do." Fighting is useless, running is useless, so it’s all about giving in and accepting the way things are.

Ole Andreson Timeline
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