The Killers

the killersThe Killers by Ernest Hemingway is about two “” who come to a restaurant in a small town near Chicago, Illinois to shoot a man as a favor to a friend. Some s go as far as to say that this is one of best short stories of all time. This is all the more given that Hemingway said that he wrote The Killers in just one morning in a hotel room in Madrid, Spain. , his did not see a need to change a single word of the story before it was published. Since then, the has been the basis for three movies, a performed by two academy award winning actors, and a book.

English Learner Vocabulary Help

The words and expressions in our Pre-Intermediate level Simplified English story which are not in our 1200 word list are: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , and .

There are also two points in the story that may seem confusing without some information about American history and culture:

  • In the restaurant, one of the hit men (Al) says to George: Got anything to drink? George answers: Silver Beer, Bevo, soda. Even though George has answered, Al asks again: I mean, you got anything to drink? The killers wanted an alcoholic drink. In the 1920s, the U.S. government made the sale of alcoholic drinks illegal. Silver Beer and Bevo were brand names of two drinks that were popular at the time. They were non-alcoholic, but looked and tasted like real beer. Also, here does not mean soda-water, but the American meaning of the word (soda-pop).
  • As the two hit men leave, having decided not to harm the people in the restaurant, Al says to George: So long, bright boy. You got a lot of luck.. Then Max adds: That’s the truth. You should play the races, bright boy. The expression “play the races” here means to start ting on horse races.

General Comments on the Story

There are many different ways of writing. Hemingway is famous for what is called the writing style. In this the story is presented in simple sentences and conversations only. Many details are left out, so readers must use their imagination to complete the picture. Hemingway called it the “ “. He compared his works to an iceberg floating on the sea, where only one-eighth of the iceberg is above the water. You know that the rest is there, hidden under the water, and need to create its image in your mind. The Killers is an excellent example of this style of writing.

The story was written in the 1920s at a time when there was a lot of organized crime in the United States. Chicago was the home of many famous s and, when things became too dangerous for them in the city, they would often hide in nearby towns like Summit until it was safe to return. In the story we learn that the person the hit men have come to kill is a prizefighter by the name of Ole Andreson. This is most likely a reference to a real person, Andre Anderson, who was an American heavy-weight boxer at the time. He was killed in 1926 by Chicago gangsters. Most people say that this was because he did not agree to in a fight.

Some Reading Suggestions

When reading in another language, you are sure to come across words that you don’t know. One of the most important things in is to teach yourself not to stop to check their meaning unless you can’t understand the general meaning of that part of the story or .

We have left some unusual words in our Simplified English version of The Killers to show how this works. For example, when ordering food one of the characters says:

“Give me chicken croquettes with green peas and cream sauce and mashed potatoes.”

All you need to understand here to follow the story is that he is ordering some kind of food. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what a croquette is or how to mash a potato… you should continue reading. If you really want to know, you can always come back and look up words like these when you have finished the story.

On the subject of checking the meaning of unknown words, I often see beginner students trying to look up s in a dictionary. Most of the time this is of no benefit. If you see a word that looks like a proper noun, you usually only need to know which person, place or thing the name refers to in the plot in order to understand a story.

In fact, sometimes looking up the meaning of proper nouns can give you the wrong idea. The name of the town where the action takes place in The Killers is Summit. A dictionary will tell you that one meaning of the word “summit” is the highest point of something (like the top of a mountain). The town of Summit, which is now part of the Chicago city area, would hardly qualify as a summit under this as its height (only 179 meters above sea level) is the same as the rest of city.

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(n: hit man pl hit men) A killer who is paid to murder someone, usually using a gun.

(n: critic pl critics) Someone, usually an expert, whose job it is to give opinions about books, movies, or other forms of art. 2000

(adj: impressive) Deserving attention, admiration, or respect; making a good impression.
(n: impression pl impressions) The effect or influence that something or someone has on a person's thoughts or feelings.
(v: impress, impresses, impressed, impressing) To make someone admire or be interested in you in some way. 2000

moreover(adv: moreover) In addition to what has already been said; furthermore. 7000

(n: editor pl editors) Someone who decides what goes into a newspaper, magazine or book and is responsible for making sure that the material printed is correct in facts, spelling and grammar. 2000

(n: plot pl plots) The series of events that form the story in a movie, novel, play, etc. 3000

(n: radio-play pl radio-plays) A special version of a story designed to make entertaining listening on the radio. Sometimes the story may be changed slightly, and often extra bits will be added to make it fit the amount of time the program is on the air.

comic(n: comic pl comics) A book made up of sequences of drawings telling a story. 4000

amuse(v: amuse, amuses, amused, amusing) 1. To make someone laugh or smile. 2. To entertain or give fun or pleasure to someone.
(adj: amusing) Funny; providing enjoyment; pleasantly entertaining. An amusing story. 3000

bacon(n: bacon, noncount) Thin strips of salted and smoked meat from the sides and the back of a pig. 4000

boxer(n: boxer pl boxers) One who takes part in the sport of boxing.
(n: boxing, noncount) The sport of fighting someone with your hands while wearing very thick gloves. 3000

cheat(v: cheat, cheats, cheated, cheating) 1. To break a rule or law, usually to gain an advantage at something. She was caught cheating in a test. 2. To take something from someone by lying or breaking a rule. He cheated his brother out of his share of their parents money. 3000

(v: depend, depends, depended, depending) 1. To be rely on or be sure about (someone or something). She's someone you can always depend on. 2. To need or rely on someone or something for support, help, etc. 3. [of a future happening] To be decided by something else that happens in the future. 1000

except(prep, conj: except, excepting) 1. Leaving out or not including someone or something. The stores will be open daily except Sundays. 2. Used to introduce a statement about the only person or thing not included in a previous statement. Employees were not allowed to leave except in an emergency. 1000

ham(n: ham pl hams) Meat from the top of the back leg of a pig, that is often prepared by smoking or salting. 3000

knock(v: knock, knocks, knocked, knocking) To make a loud, sharp noise by hitting or tapping something [especially a door to get someone to open it]. 1000

pork(n: pork, noncount) The meat of a farmed pig that is used for food. 4000

rail(n: rail pl rails) 1. A [usually horizontal] bar of metal, wood etc used in fences etc, or for hanging things on. Don't lean over the rail. A curtain-rail, towel-rail, etc. 2. [usually plural] A long bar of steel which forms the track on which trains etc run. 1000

roast(v: roast, roasts, roasted, roasting) To cook food [such as chicken, potatoes, or beef] with dry heat in an oven or over a fire. 4000

sauce(n: sauce pl sauces) A usually thick liquid that is eaten with or on other food to add moisture or flavor. 4000

scarf(n: scarf pl scarves) A long piece of cloth that is worn on your shoulders, around your neck, or over your head. 5000

shotgun(n: shotgun pl shotguns) A gun with one or two long barrels that shoots many small metal balls (shot) over short distances. They are mainly used for hunting. Very small balls [bird shot] are used for small animals; larger balls [buck shot] are used for larger animals. 5000

steak(n: steak pl steaks) A thick, flat piece of meat [especially beef] or fish for cooking. (เนื้อหรือปลาชิ้นหนา สำหรับทอดหรือย่าง) 4000

streetcar(n: streetcar pl streetcars) A vehicle that travels on roads on metal tracks and is used for carrying passengers. (ถนนรถ)

supper(n: supper pl suppers) A usually light meal taken at the end of the day. (อาหารมื้อเย็น) 3000

weight(n: weight, weights) 1. A measurement that indicates how heavy a person or thing is. Please indicate your height and weight on the form. 2. A heavy object that is lifted during exercising. A 10-pound weight. (หน่วยวัดน้ำหนัก) 3. Something that causes worry or sadness. When I heard he was safe, I felt as if a weight had been lifted from my mind. (น้ำหนัก) 1000

wipe(v: wipe, wipes, wiped, wiping) To clean or dry something by using a cloth, your hand, etc. (เช็ด) 2000

wrap(v: wrap, wraps, wrapped, wrapping) To cover something by winding or folding a piece of paper or cloth around it. (คลุม; พัน) 2000

(n: soda pl sodas) 1. A white powdery substance that contains sodium and is used in cooking and medicine. Baking soda; Washing soda. (โซดา) 2. Water that has bubbles in it and that is often used to mix with or make other drinks; soda-water. Whiskey and soda. (น้ำโซตา) 2. [chiefly American] A sweet drink containing soda-water and flavoring; soda-pop. (เครื่องดื่มผสมโซดา) 7000

bet(n: bet pl bets) An agreement in which people try to guess what will happen and the person who guesses wrong has to give something [such as money] to the person who guesses right.
(v: bet, bets, bet, betting) To make a bet; to risk losing something [such as money] if your guess about what will happen is wrong. 1000

(adj: minimalist) Relating to a style in literature, art, or music that is very simple and uses a small number of types, colors, parts, materials, etc.

iceberg(n: iceberg pl icebergs) A very large piece of ice floating in the ocean. 4000

(n: principle pl principles) 1. A moral rule or belief that helps you know what is right and wrong and that influences your actions. 2. A basic truth or theory; an idea that forms the basis of something. 3. A law or fact of nature that explains how something works or why something happens. 2000

gangster(n: gangster pl gangsters) A member of an organized group of violent criminals. 8000

(v: take a dive) [idiom] To lose a fight on purpose by falling down when hit and pretending that you are hurt and cannot continue.

Extensive reading is exactly the same kind of reading that a learner would normally do for enjoyment in their own language – but in English and at a level where he/she can easily understand what they read. It requires reading long conversations and passages in English without using a dictionary. Much as in real life, being able to understand the overall meaning of what you read is more important than understanding every word.

article(n: article pl articles) A piece of writing about something in a newspaper, magazine, on the Internet, etc. 2000

(n: proper noun) The actual name of the person, place, or thing. The names of people, states, streets, rivers, oceans, countries, companies, institutions, days, months, etc. Proper nouns always begin with a capital letter.
(n: noun pl nouns) A word or group of words that is used as the name of a person, place or thing.

(n: definition pl definitions) An explanation of the meaning of a word, phrase, etc, as in a dictionary entry. 2000

This series featured radio play adaptations of films. The story therefore follows the 1946 film version of The Killers rather than the Hemingway story. In fact, it does not include any of the dialogue from Henry’s Restaurant. It starts from when Nick Adams goes to warn Ole Andreson that two hitmen had been there looking for him. From then the play covers events in the past that led to Ole being in the room, and what happens after the hit men find him. To download the mp3, click here.

Radio Theatre Group

This Scottish theatre company generously make many of their works available to the public through the Librivox Project. They don’t appear to have a website, but you can find them on Facebook. This production of The Killers was recorded at the Ramshorn Theatre in Glasgow and follows the 1949 radio play fairly closely. However, in the first six minutes they do give a quite good interpretation of the original story. To download the mp3, click here.

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