"The Killers" is a short story by Ernest Hemingway, published in Scribner's Magazine in 1927. After its appearance in Scribner's, the story was published in Men Without Women, Snows of Kilimanjaro, and The Nick Adams Stories. The writer's depiction of the human experience, his use of satire, and the everlasting themes of death, friendship, and the purpose of life have contributed to make "The Killers" one of Hemingway's most famous and frequently anthologized short stories.
The story features Nick Adams, a famous Hemingway character from his short stories. In this story, Hemingway shows Adams crossing over from teenager to adult. The basic plot of the story involves a pair of criminals who enter a restaurant seeking to kill a boxer, a Swede named Ole Andreson, who is hiding out for reasons unknown, possibly for winning a fight.
Historians have some documents showing that the working title of the piece was "The Matadors".
How much Hemingway received for the literary piece is unknown, but some sources state it was $200. When adjusted for inflation, it would be almost $3000 in 2019.
The story takes place in Summit, Illinois, during the 1920s, during Prohibition. Two hit men, Max and Al, walk into Henry's lunchroom, which is run by George. They order something off the menu that is not available and have to settle for bacon and eggs. Al goes into the kitchen and ties up Nick Adams who is a recurring character in Hemingway's stories, and Sam the black cook. Max and George soon have a conversation, which reveals that the two men are there to kill Ole Andreson, a Swedish boxer, for a "friend." Andreson never shows, so the two men leave. George sends Nick to Hirsch's boarding house, run by Mrs. Bell, to warn Andreson about the two men. Nick finds Andreson lying in his bed with all of his clothes on. He tells Andreson what has happened. Andreson does not react, except to tell Nick not to do anything, as there is nothing that can be done. Nick leaves, goes back to the lunchroom, and informs George about Ole Andreson's reaction. When George no longer seems concerned, Nick decides to leave town.
"The Killers" was written in the 1920s, when organized crime was at its peak during Prohibition. Chicago was the home of Al Capone, and Hemingway himself spent time in Chicago as a young man. When things became too dangerous for the mob, they retreated to the suburb of Summit, where "The Killers" takes place. Not long before the story was written, the Chicago mob had killed a popular boxer of the time, Andre Andreson, who'd once knocked Jack Dempsey off his feet, likely Hemingway's source for the Swede.
Despite Hemingway's knowledge of organized crime, he omitted much of that background from the story. Hemingway himself said, "That story probably had more left out of it than anything I ever wrote. I left out all Chicago, which is hard to do in 2951 words."
In 1984, Oak Park and River Forest High School published the anthology Hemingway at Oak Park High and included short works that Hemingway had written for his school newspaper and literary magazine. One of the stories, "A Matter of Colour", involves the plot of a boxing manager's having a man named Swede hide behind a curtain and hit an opponent during a bout. The Swede fails, and the reader is left with an impression that in retaliation, the boxing manager puts out a contract on his life.
The short story has been the basis for several movies, and stories by Jorge Luis Borges and Tobias Wolff:
- The Killers (1946), starring Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner
- The Killers (1956), a short film directed by Andrei Tarkovsky
- The Killers (1959 television) starring Ingemar Johansson, Dean Stockwell, and Diane Baker on CBS's Buick-Electra Playhouse, televised on November 19, 1959.
- The Killers (1964), starring Lee Marvin, Ronald Reagan, and Angie Dickinson
- "The Wait" ("La espera" in Spanish) (1950), a short story by Jorge Luis Borges that retells and reinterprets the meaning of this Hemingway story
- "Bullet in the Brain" (1995), a short story by Tobias Wolff
- Tyler, Lisa. Student Companion to Ernest Hemingway. New York: Greenwood P, 2001. p. 78
- The Killers - Introduction & Overview. www.bookrags.com.
- Hemingway, Ernest. "The Killer", The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. New York: Scribner, 1987.
- Lundin, Leigh (23 Dec 2012). "Literary Mystery". The Killers. Durban: SleuthSayers.
- Tyler, Lisa. Student Companion to Ernest Hemingway. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2001. pg. 80
- Lundin, Leigh (6 Jan 2013). "Hemingway Punchline". A Matter of Colour. Durban: SleuthSayers.
- Blades, John (24 March 1984). "Favored Son Oak Park May Have Solved a Mystery With Its New Hemingway Book". Chicago Tribune. pp. 13 C. ProQuest 283701603.