Homicidal Passivity: An Analysis of Hemingway’s “The Killers”

In The Killers, Hemingway displays how passivity, rather than reducing one’s agency, can make one an agent, even an agent of evil, through cowardice and irresoluteness. He displays this in each character, either by example or by an ironic contrast. The first person named is neither of the apparent killers, Al or Max, but George. George shows the greatest passivity, doing nothing in the entire story except making a sandwich; he never goes into the back of the kitchen when Nick and Sam are taken, but merely stands there the whole scene. In his dialogue, he is evasive and non-confrontational: 

“‘Well, bright boy [George],’ Max said, looking into the mirror, ‘why don’t you say something?’
‘What’s it all about?’
‘Hey, Al,’ Max called, ‘bright boy wants to know what it’s all about.’
‘Why don’t you tell him?’ Al’s voice came from the kitchen. 
‘What do you think its all about?’ 
‘I don’t know.’ 
‘What do you think?’ 
Max looked into the mirror all the time he was talking. 
‘I wouldn’t say.’” 

When Al and Max leave, George again does nothing, suggesting Nick go and warn Ole Andreson of his impending death, and saying, “Don’t go if you don’t want to.” And in the end, he epitomizes passivity in the final line of the story: “Well, you better not think about it.” 

While Nick does go and see Ole Andreson, in the end he does not go to the police, simply because Ole Andreson is resigned to his fate. The mutual passivity of Nick and Ole Andreson leads us to the climax of agonizing irresoluteness on which the story ends. He goes back to the lunch house, and considers leaving the town himself, even though—while he himself did get tied up by two hit men—he had no reason to believe that he was in any apparent future danger, since they were presumed to be hit men from Chicago, in town only because Ole Andreson had come into town. Thus, Nick’s desire to leave can be interpreted as really a desire to run away from his decision to do nothing for Ole Andreson. Andreson himself has remained in his room all day, unable to decide if he would go out or not. He is described more than once as lying in bed with all his clothes on, staring at the wall; so irresolute that he can neither undress nor get out of bed. Thus both Nick and Ole Andreson exemplify passivity and irresoluteness, both fleeing responsibility in one way or another. While Sam the cook said outright, “Mixing up in this ain’t join to get you anywhere. You say out of it;” even so, George and Nick are shown to have done no better than Sam. 

These characters are contrasted by Al and Max, who, while being hit men who assault two others in the story, never actually kill anyone. Their dialogue, like everyone else’s, is amusing, vapid, and inane, and their role is more to contrast the other characters than to have any real agency in the impending murder. The fact that George is the first, and Nick the third character introduced, and that it ends with them, and we never see Al or Max interact with Ole Andreson, places an emphasis on Nick and George as the main characters and on their relationship, more than Al and Max’s, to Ole Andreson. While Al and Max may actually kill him, the choices and inaction of the other characters is emphasized in the story as pertains to Ole Andreson’s likely death. 

A couple details shed light on this role reversal: Henry is never seen in Henry’s lunch-room, but only George; and Mrs. Hirsch is never seen in Hirsch’s roaming house, but only Mrs. Bell, who looks after the place for Mrs. Hirsch. Titles, agency, and responsibility, therefore, are not what they seem. The title of “The Killers” seems at first to refers to Al and Max, but as far as the story is concerned, George and Nick are the protagonists, they have the ability to intervene, and by their passivity they become, and even feel, responsible for Ole Andreson’s death. It is not, I think, Hemingway’s point that George or Nick are more responsible for Ole Andreson’s murder than Al and Max if and when they kill him; rather, it is an important point that Al and Max never do kill him in the story, and in the narrative that the reader witnesses, George and Nick run from the responsibility that their knowledge demands of them. So if Ole Andreson never was actually murdered, if Al and Max for whatever reason did not kill him, then in the end Al and Max would be guilty of assault and intent to harm and kill; but George, Nick, and Sam, to the best of their knowledge, would be guilty of letting a man be murdered. As the story ends, with this murder not yet taking place, George, Nick, and Sam let Ole Andreson be murdered, and Al and Max do not actually murder him. It is more apt, therefore, to call the former the killers. 

Humility, Charity, and True Honor: A Book Review of Black Cauldron (Prydain Chronicles #2)

In Lloyd Alexander’s Black Cauldron, second of The Prydain Chronicles, both Taran and Prince Ellidyr show in wonderful character arc’s different paths to the the same virtues of humility and charity.1 While we may like Taran and dislike Ellidyr from the beginning, their arcs begin in similar places. Both possess great pride and shame in light of their birth and seek to remedy their situations by the same means. We must remember that, as Iroh says in Avatar: The Last Airbender, “Pride is not the opposite of shame, but its source. True humility is the only antidote to shame.” Taran is ashamed of his unknown parentage and his lowly position as Assistant Pig-Keeper; all this he sees as dishonorable, and hopes to gain honor through great feats of heroism in battle and adventure. Ellidyr is last in his line of brothers in a royal house which is poor and not high esteemed, and he also seeks to gain honor in the very venture for which he and Taran are both employed. From hence, both take very different routes on their paths of failure and redemption, yet their contrasts and parallels teach great lessons of virtue. 

Continue reading “Humility, Charity, and True Honor: A Book Review of Black Cauldron (Prydain Chronicles #2)”

At Home in Oneself: A Book Review of Taran Wanderer by Lloyd Alexander

In Taran Wanderer, fourth in The Chronicles of Prydain series by Lloyd Alexander, Taran begins his quest to learn his parentage with a great deal of pride. His pride has always manifested itself in the series as quickness to judge others, accumulated shame regarding his own mistakes, and a high value on birth, nobility, and glory in feats of heroism—whence comes greater shame as regards himself, since he has an unknown birth, no noble rank, and his greatest feats of heroism in the series are of self-denial (and therefore lacking outward glory). In Taran Wanderer, he comes to learn true humility by a gradual journey from outward comparisons to an inward honesty and magnanimity. 

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Blog Update: A Rule of Life

I recently began to reevaluate my rule of life, to take again a look at my ‘recipe’ for a life well ordered toward true joy and fulfillment in Heaven, beginning in this life and never-ending in the next. I began to do this near the beginning of Advent, and in light of a conversation with a friend and mentor among other friends, in which we discussed the importance of a rule of life, and sleep—something I’ve long struggled to receive in healthy moderation—was so heavily emphasized by all. The effect, as we now journey through this Christmas season, has been a renewal of mind, and an ongoing learning experience of how to live a balanced life, especially in light of the new principles (or, rather, reordering of principles and priorities in light of virtue which, as St. Augustine says, is ‘rightly ordered love’) which I have put in place. Part of this learning experience is where to place, after prayer, sleep, and work, the other essential ingredients of reading and friendship; and then where the good ingredients of things like writing go. In effect, I have not been writing as much. I am not sure if I will become accustomed to this new ordering of life ingredients in such a way that I will begin writing more, perhaps more than I did before—as often happens when one better orders one’s life; for as C. S. Lewis said: Put first things first, and you get the second things thrown in; put second things first, and you lose the first things and the second things—or if I will instead not be able to write as much as I would like, with more important things taking priority at this time. All this is to say that I shall keep this blog up, and continue to write outside of it, and continue to post those writings here; but I shall not, for the time being, have a specific schedule in which I promise to post things on certain days. I thank you for your reading this blog, and if you follow it or subscribe by email then you will get updates when I do publish a post. So again I thank you, and I pray Christmas blessings upon you and yours.

King regards,

James Imelda

No Blog Post Tomorrow—Spend Time in Friendship!

Spending the weekend with family, and due to factors which I shall explain later, I did not have time to write a post recently!

So spend some extra time with your family, with a close friend, or especially with someone who is lonely or discourage. If you do not have someone and are isolated, please reach out to me by email! I would love to hear from you, and may be able to connect you with someone in your area who would love to meet and spend time with you! Either way, you are all in my prayers. May the rest of your Advent and your Christmas be filled with hope, peace, joy, and love.

In Jesus & Mary,

James Imelda

Experience Beauty

Last Monday I made some imprudent decisions regarding sleep, and am bearing the consequences of a compromised immune system. Thus, I did not have time to write a blog post (since I was resting instead). But since the purpose of this blog is to discuss literature and other ways of experiencing beauty, I thought I would encourage you to, instead of reading one of my posts, take the time instead to experience beauty today. Go on a walk in nature, taking in the sights and sounds; read some poetry; listen to some beautiful music (Bach, Bomsori Kim, Clamavi de Profundis, and the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, are all wonderful); read a good book like Anne of Green Gables, Watership Down, Winnie the Pooh, The Tale of Despereaux, Grimms’ Fairy Tales, or any fiction by by Tolkien or C. S. Lewis. If you can find some art of any kind to spend time with and appreciate (not on your screen), do that. If we cannot enjoy beauty, we run the risk of turning our lives into a busy machine of useless productivity or letting it sink into a mire of entertainment, noise, and listlessness. Beauty takes us outside of ourselves, and actually helps us to become more ourselves. It expands our limits and desires so that we can become more.

The Silent Love of God

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb,
so he opened not his mouth.
~Isaiah 53:7 

For many of us, the apparent silence of God is confusing or frustrating, and we often respond in anger, anxiousness, or despair. We think that we have prayed, tried this or that, done what He asked, or asked Him to do something, and His response? There is none. Or so we perceive it. Yet more and more I find great comfort in the silence of God. But I think of it not so much as a negative, as a lack of a thing. When one looks at the clear night sky, at the great black blanket of night with its scattered stars, doesn’t the blackness appear to be a thing in itself? The stars are not so much hanging in a void as they are resting, set in a profound and infinite tapestry of mystery and wonder. And one would not wish that the sky were filled with so many stars that the darkness were filled, either; not just because each star would become less noticeable, but also because it would seem that something were hidden, that the darkness were somehow obscured by light. This, to me, is something like the silence of God. The more one takes time for silence and solitude, looking for God within oneself—and more importantly, letting Him look at you—the more I think one comes to know this silence as a thing itself, as a gesture, as an act of love. For as St. Mother Teresa said, ‘In the silence of the heart, God speaks.’ 

The silence of the heart, St. Faustina writes, is ‘not a gloomy silence, but an interior silence; that is to say, recollection in God.’1 As one comes to know Him, to know Him through daily prayer, meditation, speaking from the heart, and listening in the quiet, and most importantly just being with him, one comes to know that He is the prime mover, the first actor. We, on the other hand, are the responder, the one moved by Love, the reactor. God has spoken, powerfully and subtly and undeniably. He has spoken through nature, through the design of the human person, through His design of your own unique person; through the daily gifts that come in the form of laughter, a kind word, the sun, starry nights, warm rain, fiery Autumn leaves, and birdsong; through the human mind which has created wonderful literature, beautiful art, magnificent song; and through the human heart capable of great love, desire, courage, patience, conversion, gentleness, and strength. God is the Author of all goodness, which humble souls joyfully acknowledge. Now let us look at our response: that of pride, envy, lust, wrath, gluttony, sloth, greed, ungratefulness, distrust, and hatred. With the Devil’s help, all have rebelled against Love and chosen selfishness, greed, and cruelty. Each man knows he has hated God and neighbour, and that he finds himself one among a race of creatures who have gladly hastened to a baseness lower than that of beasts: to cruelty, murder, unforgiveness, abuse, and deceit. Now we have seen God’s initial action, and our response. It is His turn, is it not? How should He respond? 

Now let the one who wonders at creation and marvels at beauty find himself dumbfounded. For to rebellion, hatred, ungratefulness, and cruelty, God has responded: He has offered Himself as a sacrifice to buy back those who hate Him and one another. It was, in fact, His initial response to the Serpent’s trickery: ‘I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.’2 Then from Abraham to John the Baptist God’s prophets write, teach, and shout one message repeatedly: There is one coming who will save you from your own self-destruction. Only wait! Hope in Him! You are unfaithful, but God is always faithful. 

And when He came, He came in silence, hidden in the night. He was born as a baby in poverty. He was exiled from His own country. He was ignored, misunderstood, and scorned. Soon He was reviled, hated, tortured, and executed as a criminal. And all the while He spoke only what His Father gave Him to say: Repent, turn and follow me, for I desire you, and I want to give you life, eternal life in friendship with Me for eternity: I, who have always loved you, though you did not know me, and though you hated Me when I came to deliver you from death. And when the time came for Him to finish His response to our sin, when the time was fulfilled, He bore the weight of sin and death in sorrow and silence. So Jesus the Son of God responded to cries of hatred and cruelty not with indignation, righteous anger, or justice, but with silence. Then, when it was finished, He cried out, and gave up His Spirit for the life of the world. For he is ‘the life of the dead,’ and ‘it was precisely out of the depths of death that he made life spring forth.’3

For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel,
    'In returning and rest you shall be saved;
    in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.'
And you would not, but you said,
'No! We will speed upon horses,'
    therefore you shall speed away;
and, 'We will ride upon swift steeds,'
    therefore your pursuers shall be swift.
A thousand shall flee at the threat of one,
    at the threat of five you shall flee,
till you are left
    like a flagstaff on the top of a mountain,
    like a signal on a hill.
Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you;
    therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
    blessed are all those who wait for him.
~Isaiah 30:15-18

I said at the beginning that, in St. Teresa’s words, God speaks in the silence of our hearts. In the silent heart—that is, the heart which keeps Him in mind, without giving in to anxiety, worry, fear, discouragement, or self-preservation—here, you encounter Him who was always there, who has never abandoned you. Indeed, He has drawn nearer in your dire need and distress. For ‘the Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.’4 In the silence of one’s heart one meets Jesus on the Cross, who willingly bears our sins so that we might believe, be healed by His Spirit, and be raised up to become like Him both in His Death and His Resurrection.5 In this silence one meets Jesus on the road to Calvary, suffering so that we in our suffering might be united to His, and become pure as He is pure, saving souls with Him.6 In this silence one meets the Holy Spirit and Mary, who as our Mother wraps us in Her mantle and quiets us against Her breast. In this silence the soul knows that she is loved, and she can abide in His love, responding not with fear but with love for Him and for others. And then her heart is attuned to listen for His words of love in the myriad ways in which He communicates to her. And when He does speak, His words are like the stars in the mantle of the night sky, and the soul cherishes them as from a lover for whom she longs and whom she awaits with joy and eagerness and yearning. 

Let nothing trouble you 
Let nothing frighten you
Everything passes 
God never changes
Obtains all
Whoever has God 
Wants for nothing
God alone is enough.
~St. Teresa of Avila  
  1. Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul, paragraph 118. 
  2. Genesis 3:15. 
  3. Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 635 and 631. The former comes from an ancient homily for Holy Saturday. 
  4. Psalm 34:18. 
  5. Romans 6:4. 
  6. Colossians 1:24. 

St. Imelda and the Fulfillment of All Desire

God is Beauty Itself. And being God, He is indefinable, incomprehensible, unlimited, uncontainable. God knows each one of us perfectly and love each one of us completely, and He alone can fill our deepest and greatest desire for happiness and fulfillment. This is His desire: To fill us with the life and joy of His own Heart, with the life of the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When a human being allows Him to do this, the completion of His work of love is sainthood: To be like God in love and joy and life superabundant. This work finds its completion in Heaven, but it begins in this life, for here we choose or reject His offered Gift. How do we attain to this joy and fullness of life? Someone once asked St. Thomas Aquinas: How can I become a saint? Aquinas answered: Want it. God has already fulfilled the work of redemption—of ‘buying back’ our human nature, corrupted and enslaved through sin, and uniting it to His own Divine Nature—He has already done this in His Son, Jesus Christ. On the Cross Jesus offered Himself for the life of the world. Now we must choose: Yes in faith to the Cross, or no in self-destructive pride. And the daily ‘yes’ of faith and love is made possible only by grace, freely offered, for all who would desire it. ‘The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let him who hears say, “Come.” And let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the water of life without price.1 God has offered us everything. But we get what we want: God and perfect happiness with Him and others; or ourselves. Heaven, or Hell.

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Hymns and Antiphons to the Virgin Mary

I fell a tad ill the past week, and thus sleeping cut into writing time. In lieu, therefore, of an original post, I am sharing some hymns and antiphons to our Mother Mary. Lately I’ve been praying (or singing, if I can figure out a melody) one of the hymns each morning to start my morning meditation, and one of the antiphons before going to sleep. I got these from iBreviary.com. I have also included a prayer from the Byzantine Catholic Divine Liturgy. There are a total of five prayers below, so this would work to pray a Rosary with! (Read through one before each decade and meditate on it during the decade!)

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Reflexions on Mary, Mother of All the Living

Like many Protestant converts, devotion to the Virgin Mary and deep friendship with Her has been a struggle for me. At the same time, amid many questions and doubts, God has since before my Confirmation given me a desire to know and love Her as my spiritual Mother, and He has only increased this. Mary is the Mother of all the living, and She desires relationship with Her children—with you. I have a desire that you share in the joy of knowing Her and having a deep friendship with Her as your spiritual Mother, so I wanted to share some reflexions from my journal in the past couple months on Mary and the deep, day-to-day friendship we are called to have with Her. This relationship is what is meant by consecration to Mary: To come to Jesus through Her, by belonging to Her as Jesus did.

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