Dinkum Journal of Social Innovations (DJSI)

Publication History

Submitted: July 01, 2023
Accepted: July 20, 2023
Published: August 01, 2023




Munira Rahaman (2023). A Narrative Analysis of the “Killers” protagonist “Code Hero”. Dinkum Journal of Social Innovations, 2(08):503-509.


© 2023 DJSI. All rights reserved

A Narrative Analysis of the “Killers” protagonist “Code Hero”Review Article

Munira Rahaman 1*

  1. Department of Sociology, University of Dhaka; munirr@du.ac.bd

            * Correspondence: munirr@du.ac.bd

Abstract: Ernest Hemingway, one of the most famous short story writers, fiction writers, and novelists to come out of the United States, penned the short story “The Killers” in the 1920s. This study intends to investigate and assess the human qualities of bravery, optimism, and courage, which are the characteristics that Hemingway admired the most. “Hemingway’s “code hero” is someone who is honorable, courageous, and adventurous, and who demonstrates grace under pressure”. The narrative analysis of the title, as well as the title’s first impression on the readers, is investigated in this research paper. In addition to this, it investigates the narrative analysis of the story’s protagonist, Ole Anderson, and provides an analysis of the ways in which Ole Anderson does not represent the code hero that Hemingway creates. As the primary source for this investigation, a comprehensive textual analysis of the short story has been carried out. According to the findings of the study, human values and priorities are subject to significant shifts whenever certain conditions are present. According to the findings of the study, it is imperative that positive human values be maintained at all costs, despite the weakness of man’s power and intellect in comparison to the hostile forces of nature and any other internal or external conflicts.

Keywords: Hemingway, narrative, protagonist, bravery


Ernest Hemingway, one of the most famous short story writers, fiction writers, and novelists to come out of the United States, penned the short story “The Killers” in the 1920s. It ran for a total of 2951 words and was published for the very first time in the issue of Scribner’s Magazine that was dated March 1927. Ole Anderson, also known as A Swede, is a retired heavyweight boxer who currently resides in a rented room at Hirch’s Rooming House, which is owned and operated by a woman named Mrs. Bell. Ole Anderson has been misrepresented as a Swede. Nick, who is employed at Henry Lunch Room, is an additional important character in the narrative. Nick is the prototypical hero from Hemingway, and he is currently deciphering “the code.” The “code hero” described by Hemingway is an individual who is honorable, courageous, and adventurous, as well as someone who demonstrates grace under pressure. The counter narrative of the title, as well as the title’s first impression on the readers, is investigated in this research paper. In addition to this, it analyses how the protagonist of the story, Ole Anderson, does not fit the mould of the code hero that Hemingway created and investigates the counter narrative that he presents.  Ernest Miller Hemingway was the second child to be born to Clarence Hemingway, a physician, and Grace (Hall) Hemingway. Ernest Miller Hemingway was born on July 21, 1899 in Oak Park, Illinois. Hemingway had a conventional upbringing due to the fact that he was born into the middle class, and after graduating from Oak Park High School in 1917, he began working as a reporter for the Kansas City Star. In 1918, Hemingway joined the Red Cross and served as a driver for the organization in Italy, where he was stationed during the closing months of World War I. At the time that Hemingway wrote “The Killers” in 1926, the United States was at the height of the Prohibition era, and criminal activity, particularly in Chicago, was at an all-time high. Gangsters such as Al Capone and Dutch Schultz controlled the bootlegging industry as well as a good portion of the police force during this time. Hemingway served as an ambulance driver during World War I. As a consequence of the catastrophic loss of human life that occurred during the war (tens of millions of people were killed or wounded), many people lost their faith in God, their ideas of nationhood, and even their grasp on reality itself. The world was portrayed as a place of uncertainty and chaos in the theories of intellectuals and scientists such as Sigmund Freud, Henri Bergson, Sir James George Frazer, Werner Heisenberg, and Albert Einstein. These theorists believed that appearances are not always what they appear to be.


Overall the story gained a lot of popularity and was very much admired by its readers and by its audience of media adaptations. Two famous and popular examples of the media adaptations for The Killers are as under:

  1. The Killers (1946), starring Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner
  2. The Killers (1956), a short film directed by Andrei Tarkovsky

“In Our Time” is a collection of short stories that feature Nick Adams, a fictional representation of Hemingway’s autobiographical self who also appears in subsequent works of the author. His second collection, which was published in 1927 and titled Men Without Women, included many of the stories that would go on to become Hemingway’s most well-known and widely-reprinted works, such as “The Killers” and “Hills Like White Elephants.” In these short stories, Hemingway perfected his spare, elliptical style, almost entirely relying on dialogue to bring his characters to life and propel the plot forward. Edward Stone makes a number of observations about the peculiarities of the story in his article “Some Questions about Hemingway’s ‘The Killers'” that is published in Studies in Short Fiction. Stone argues that the “surrealistic appearance” of Al and Max is what shocks Nick, not the pervasiveness of crime or Ole’s reaction to his circumstances. Stone’s article is titled “Some Questions about Hemingway’s ‘The Killers'” Stone believes that Ole, not Nick, is the rightful owner of the story. According to Charles Owen’s article titled “Time and the Contagion of Flight in ‘The Killers,'” the story does not belong to Nick or Ole, but rather to the readers who, just like Nick, continue to have “faith in expedients, a faith that makes him representative of a whole tradition in American culture” (Edward Stone).


The original text of the story, which was published in Scribner’s Magazine, as well as Hemingway’s collection of short stories titled The Snows of Kilimanjaro, have both been used as primary sources for the purpose of conducting analysis and exploring the research questions. Allegory, symbolism, Einstein’s theory of relativity, irony, and the effaced narrator are some of the literary terms, devices, and figures of speech that have been utilized in the work. Because it exemplifies both Hemingway’s writing style and the themes that would continue to preoccupy his work throughout his career, “The Killers” continues to be one of the most widely collected of Hemingway’s short stories. Hemingway explores topics such as the meaninglessness of human life, male camaraderie, and the inevitability of death by employing the short sentences, slang, and understatement that are his trademarks.

3.1 Background Source for the Title of the Story

Documents in the possession of historians reveal that an early draught of the piece had “The Matadors” written as the working title. The events of the story take place in Summit, Illinois during the 1920s, at a time when organized crime was at its height and when prohibition was in effect. As a young man, Hemingway lived in Chicago, which was also the hometown of Al Capone. Hemingway also wrote about Chicago. Andre Anderson, a well-known boxer of the era, had been brutally murdered by members of the Chicago mob not too long before the story was written. It’s possible that Hemingway used that information as a setting for the action that takes place in the story. At this time, it would appear that the title of the story, “The Killers,” will bring excitement and surprise for the readers. It is anticipated that the reader will form an impression of terror, bloodshed, and brutality. However, there is none of the bloodshed, brutality, or murder that one might expect to find in a story like this, and this is the aspect that is most disappointing to the reader. An apparent crime story, as the implication of the story’s title suggests, turns out to be nothing more than an illusion of the crime and thrill stories. It could be considered an anti-crime story in which the actual act of murder and the study of criminology are satirized. The so-called professional assassins and vicious killers are currently having a good time with the wait staff at a restaurant where they are eating and drinking. It would appear that they are not there for the purpose of murdering anyone but rather came to pass the time in a leisurely manner. A good number of the characters put up fronts that are just as mysterious, if not outright dishonest. Both of the murderers have physiques that are “about the same size,” and they are “dressed like twins.” This makes it impossible to differentiate between the two of them in any way. When they left the restaurant, they were said to look “like a vaudeville team.” In addition to this, they do not even remotely resemble the murderers that they are supposed to be. At one point, they pose the question in a way that is meant to be rhetorical: “Do we look silly?” The answer, which appears to be unnecessary, is “No,” as there are two cold and fearsome hitmen carrying sawed-off shotguns. But the real answer is “Yes,” they do look silly, with their identical dress, bowler hats, tight-fitting dark overcoats and gloves—looking in fact like a vaudeville team (Quentin E. Martina). This is the real answer.

3.2 Comparison of Ole Anderson and Santiago

The main character, Ole Anderson, has a personality that is portrayed as being very fragile throughout the narrative. The image that Hemingway’s readers have in their heads after reading the short novel The Old Man and the Sea is completely shattered to pieces and brought crashing down to earth. A comparison between Ole Anderson of The Killers and Santiago from “The Old Man and the Sea” provides a wide-ranging and unparalleled portrait of the two characters. The reader may become confused due to the differences in the values that are projected by these two of Hemingway’s creations. If Hemingway was someone who valued love, sympathy, bravery, skill, determination, and a high level of optimism, as shown in the novel The Old Man and the Sea, then why isn’t the protagonist in The Killers displaying any of these values?

“But a man is not made for defeat,” “A man can die but not be defeated”

(The Old Man and The Sea, pp.23, 25)

Why a creation of the same author be a paragon of optimism and great courage on one side(Santiago) and a mere lost and defeated dull person on the other hand(Ole Anderson) is really a matter of serious concern and it arrests the attention of the readers and viewers of its media adaptations under great confusion.

Nick looked at the big man lying on the bed.

“Don’t you want me to go and see the police?”

“No,” Ole Anderson said. “That wouldn’t do any good.”

“Isn’t there something I could do?”

“No. There ain’t anything to do.”

“Maybe it was just a bluff.”

“No. It ain’t just a bluff.”

Ole Andreson rolled over toward the wall. (The Killers, pp.230)

 The question that needs to be answered is which of the two, Ole Anderson or Santiago, is the true code hero that Hemingway envisioned. The Killers does not respond to these questions by answering or justifying them in any way. This could be a mistake in the writing of the story, or it could be a reflection of how the author’s perspective and thoughts have evolved over the course of writing the book. There is almost a thirty-year gap between these two works of creation by Hemingway, so if it is a change in thought and outlook towards life, then it is a great positive sign in the author’s attitude towards life. If it is a change of thought and outlook towards life, then it is a great positive sign in the author’s attitude towards life. It demonstrates that Hemingway triumphed over death and other obstacles, broke through the limiting boundaries of pessimism, and successfully navigated his way to the path of optimism during these thirty years of his life. Nick is set apart from other people by his capacity to endure hardship and to maintain his dignity in the face of death. These characteristics define the manhood of the code hero. In a nutshell, Nick is acquiring the knowledge necessary to crack the manhood code, which is based on Hemingway’s conception of what constitutes manhood. In their analysis of Hemingway’s short story, Cleanth Brooks, Jr. and Robert Penn Warren argue that “it is the tough man… the disciplined man, who actually is aware of pathos or tragedy.” [Cleanth Brooks, Jr. and Robert Penn Warren’s] essay can be found here. Such a person, according to the two, “has learned that the only way to hold on to ‘honour,’ to individuality, to, even, the human order … is to live by his code.” Nick has not yet finished writing the code. His time spent with the murderers served as his initiation into a world filled with violence and chance occurrences. The true protagonist of “The Killers” is a subject of frequent debate among critics. Ole Anderson is a Swedish ex-heavyweight boxer who currently resides in Hirsch’s rooming house. Anderson is of Swedish descent. It is around six o’clock in the evening when he typically eats in Henry’s lunchroom, but he does not appear on the day that Al and Max come to kill him. Ole is laying on his bed with his back against the wall when Nick comes to visit him to warn him about the men. Ole is grateful to Nick for telling him, but he is accepting of what will happen to him. He explains to Nick that he has been unable to get out of bed and go outside, and that he is “done with all that running around.”

-“George thought I better come and tell you about it.”

“There isn’t anything I can do about it,” Ole Anderson said.

“I’ll tell you what they were like.”

“I don’t want to know what they were like,” Ole Andreson said. He looked at the wall. “Thanks for coming to tell me about it.” (The Killers, pp.229).

3.3 Effaced Narrator

Hemingway was known for being an excellent story teller and a skilled narrator of the characters in his works. In “The Killers,” Hemingway employs the use of a “effaced” narrator. This indicates that the narrator is difficult, if not impossible, to detect. An effaced narrator does not know what the characters are thinking because this information is only obtained through the characters’ conversations. Carl Ficken, in his essay titled “Point of View in the Nick Adams Stories,” makes the following observation: “Hemingway is able to place Nick sufficiently forward in the account so that the meaning of the story has to do with Nick’s discovery of what life is like through those killers and Ole Andreson’s reaction to them.” Nick discovers what life is like through those killers and Ole Andreson’s reaction to them. In the 20th century, Hemingway is largely credited with popularising this particular style of narration for writers of short stories and novels.(The late Carl Ficken). Semansky teaches English literature and composition, and he is also a writer who contributes to a variety of publications with articles relating to literature and culture. In this piece of writing, Semansky analyses the theme of waiting as it appears in Hemingway’s short story. “The Killers,” which is filled with depictions of people waiting for something, embodies a variety of Hemingway’s ideas on the human condition, ranging from his concept of “nada” to his code of manly behaviour. Hemingway builds suspense, develops characters, and hints at themes by placing an emphasis on waiting. This is something that less skilled writers would have to do over twice as many pages to accomplish. Ole, who is obviously the target of the killers’ anticipation, stands motionless with his back to the wall, his expression betraying a profound sense of resignation. The former boxer exemplifies Hemingway’s nihilism, which is his belief that human existence is meaningless and that there is nothing a person can do to prevent their own death. He is convinced that he will die and that there is nothing he can do to stop it. According to Chris Semansky, “This concept, which is encapsulated in the Spanish word “nada,” or nothingness, appears frequently in Hemingway’s stories.”

3.4 Post-War outlook

Anderson represented many old men of his time who did not find anything interesting or worth attention in life after their active years. Life and death were now equal to him. This may be a Post-War outlook. It was also due to the changed behavior of the people towards its elders and the intensity of the organized crimes that forced the weaker especially to be made more alert and confined in their homes.

“That’s all right.”

“The only thing is,” he said, talking toward the wall, “I just can’t make up my mind to go out. I been in here all day.”

“Couldn’t you get out of town?”

“No,” Ole Anderson said. “I’m through with all that running around.”

He looked at the wall.

“There ain’t anything to do now.”(The Killers, pp.231)


Hemingway’s “The Killers” is a short story that addresses some of the author’s more well-known themes, such as bravery, disillusionment, death, and futility. Nick Adams, the semi-autobiographical narrator in a whole series of short stories written by Hemingway, engages in a heroic act but is let down by the outcome of his actions as a direct consequence of their heroic nature. Nick Adams goes through his “coming of age” in “The Killers” by displaying bravery, but in the end, he is ultimately disillusioned because his bravery does not make a difference in the outcome of the situation. The apparent tragedy of this tale is that Anderson does not show any signs of alarm at the presence of his murderers and will most likely be gunned down without putting up much of a fight; however, the real tragedy is that Nick’s selfless act of heroism did not produce any positive result and was therefore ineffective. The Code Hero is an important character in Hemingway’s works who acts as a mouthpiece for the ideals that Hemingway values the most. Anderson is not completely effective in the role of serving as Hemingway’s mouth piece. It would appear that the title of the story does not correspond with either the subject matter or the primary structure of the plot of the story. Utilizing this paper to investigate further ideas about the story’s style and the narration of the story is something that can be done. Even though “Style is the Man,” it is ever-evolving because the maturation of a man’s life brings about changes in his ideas and representations.


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Publication History

Submitted: July 01, 2023
Accepted: July 20, 2023
Published: August 01, 2023




Munira Rahaman (2023). A Narrative Analysis of the “Killers” protagonist “Code Hero”. Dinkum Journal of Social Innovations, 2(08):503-509.


© 2023 DJSI. All rights reserved