The Killers Ernest Hemingway Theme | Hemingway’s Thematic Concept

  • November 18, 2021
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Theme is often called central idea of a poem, novel or short story. In this article we are gonna discuss theme with respect to short story especially with reference to “The Killers” by Ernest Hemingway. A short story may have one or more than one themes. It depends on the writer how many themes he wants to portray in his story. Sometimes, unintentionally he illustrates a secondary subject which becomes theme of his literary work. Hemingway is one of those writers who do not rely on single theme. Ernest Hemingway portrays more than one theme in “The Killers”. Every theme he portrays is common in nature, however, his method of presentation is unique.

It is pertinent to mention here that one must have clear summary as well as analysis of “The Killers” in mind in order to understand themes of this poem. Nevertheless, following are some major themes of “The Killers”:

  • Fear
  • Courage
  • Death is certain
  • Horror

Fear is Dominant Theme of Ernest Hemingway “The Killers”:

Fear dominates the whole situation from very beginning of story. When Max told George that he along with AI came in the town to kill Ole Anderson, he became afraid. Similarly, other characters of the story i.e. Sam and Nick Adams also become afraid. It is astonishing that the killers want to kill three innocent people without any justification. It is clear illustration of fear. The story is full of suspense and with suspense there is fear. The most surprising element in the story is that nothing happens in it. The killers gain nothing at the end of story. They return empty handed. Nonetheless, moral lesson is there in it. Ole Anderson becomes hero of the story because he is not afraid of anything nor of his death.

In this way, two opposite things are put in juxtaposition. One is fear and second is courage. Ernest Hemingway keeps suspense in “The Killers” and he does it through theme of fear. Hence, it is clear like crystal that Ernest Hemingway illustrated fear as dominant theme of “The Killers”.

Ernest Hemingway and theme of Courage in “The Killers”:

Ernest Hemingway spent his life with courage. When he became unfit (paralyzed) after injury, he preferred death over useless life. Death could never create fear in his mind. It is because he had the courage to face every complication. He was the most courageous person we ever know in the history of American literature. Ole Anderson shares attributes of Ernest Hemingway so far as personality comparison is concerned.

In addition to fear, Ernest Hemingway depicts courage as governing theme of “The Killers”. On one hand, where George, Nick Adams and Sam don’t face fear, Ole Anderson on the other hand faces it. Thus, he overpowers fear because he is courageous. He has the courage to face death. When Nick Adams informs him about his death and about the killers, he takes this incident light. He is of the view that if death approaches, let it come. In fact, it is moral of the story that one should not afraid of death. He should face it courageously because it is certain.

Death is Certain:

It is the most valuable thematic concept of this story. Rather it is moral of “The Killers”. Hemingway shows this world a way to live. Instead of just spending and counting days of life one should live a life. Life without courage is nothing. There is no denying the fact that death would approach everyone one day. There is no escape from death. Coward dies everyday whereas the courageous lives every day. Ole Anderson’s example is in front of us. He does not want to inform police even at that time when he is sure that two unknown criminals are searching for him. They would kill him. Rather he sleeps peacefully. Although one should be cautious yet no one can save himself from death no matter how much cautious is he.

Live before you die becomes the most important moral lesson of this story. Hence, live a life before death approaches so that you have nothing to regret. Moreover, one should not find ways to escape from death instead he should accept it as Emily Dickens accepted it in her poem “Because I could not Stop for Death”. It is enough to say that “death is certain” and it is another important theme of “The Killers” by Ernest Hemingway.


Fear and horror seem two identical things but there is huge difference between the two. Fear may be a psychological and painful emotional feeling but horror is the name of intense pain. Nick Adams wants to fled away from the town because of horror. When Nick Adams and Sam realize that their customers are actually criminals (killers), they become fearful. However, when one of the killers, ties them in the kitchen, theme of horror dominates theme of fear right away.

There are certain occasions when readers feel horror along with the characters of story. One is when staff realizes that AI and Max are criminals and they came with the purpose of killing Ole Anderson. Secondly, one of the killers suggests killing Sam and Nick Adams, however, second one does not agree with him. Indirectly, he saves Same and Nick Adams from death. Nevertheless, situation becomes tense and horrible. Readers becomes terrified when they imagine that the killers would kill three (or at least two) innocent people without any reasonable cause. Thirdly, Ole Anderson’s condition seems horrible. However, it is the second perspective of the story. Fourthly, horror remains in the minds of George, Nick Adams and Sam even when the killers leave the lunchroom.

Second Perspective of “The Killers”:

Second perspective of the story should also be cleared here. Some critics are of the view that Ole Anderson is not courageous instead he is helpless. He can do nothing to save himself from death. He is so helpless that he has no hope of his survival not even from police department. Dejection is reflected from his critical condition. It is, therefore, he is ready to accept death.

Whatever may be the situation, we see Ernest Hemingway portraying theme of horror as primary theme of “The Killers”. From every perspective, we realize “The Killers” seem a clear representation of theme of horror.

Related Question:

  • What is the theme of “The Killers” by Ernest Hemingway?
  • How does Ernest Hemingway portrays theme of fear and horror in “The Killers”? Eleborate.
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