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The Killers

The Killers


by Ernest Hemingway

Analysis: Writing Style

Charged, Tight (as in concise, but yes, it’s also wicked tight)

As you’ve probably heard by now, Hemingway is famous for his tight, short prose. But "The Killers" in particular is composed of language charged with meaning to the utmost degree. Every word matters, and every word says something. Often, words are charged with subtext and double meanings. When Al asks George if he has anything to drink, he isn’t really asking what there is to literally drink. The word "drink" is filled with all the implications of liquor during Prohibition. Right afterwards, when he says, "This is a hot town," the word "hot" is similarly powerful and, in this case, ironic. Does he "hot" in the sense of "hopping" or "happening," or "hot" in the sense of "illegal"? Either way he’s being sarcastic, as clearly the town is neither. The point is that these tiny little words have HUGE consequences. Look at Max and Al’s conversation when they’re leaving the lunchroom:

"What about the two bright boys and the nigger?"

"They’re all right."


"You ought to play the races, bright boy."

Let us translate:

"Should we kill these guys?"

"Nah, I think it’s OK to leave ’em alive, since they are unlikely to run to the police and do anything that may lead to our apprehension and/or impede our mission as mafia hitmen in any way."


"Man, you’re lucky we didn’t blow your brains out. We very much might have blown your brains out if things had gone differently, like if Ole had shown up or if I wasn’t feeling so generous. Keep that in mind, sucker."

Like we said: little words, lots of meaning.

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