The Battler by Ernest Hemingway
In The Battler by Ernest Hemingway we have the theme of struggle, generosity, loyalty, control, connection and equality. Taken from his The Complete Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Hemingway may be exploring the theme of struggle. Ad has lived a life full of struggle. Where once he was a successful prize-fighter the reader discovers that not only has Ad fought one fight too many but his wife has also left him. Similarly with Bugs. He has spent time in prison with Ad and lives his life moving from place to place. Neither Bugs nor Ad are settled in the one place. Which might further compound the struggles or difficulties that both Bugs and Ad encounter. They have nothing to fall back on apart from themselves. In many ways both men are handicapped by their circumstances. Ad by the fact that he might be punch drunk and Bugs due to the colour of his skin. At the time the story was written African Americans would not have been considered to be an equal to a white person. Nick has also struggled. He has been thrown off the train by the brakeman and limps along the rail track till he encounters Ad and Bugs.
Hemingway also appears to be exploring the theme of generosity or altruism. Despite being a stranger Nick is invited by Bugs to eat with both himself and Ad. Even though he has very little to offer Bugs does not hesitate in sharing his food with Nick. This may be important as Hemingway could be placing a spot-light on the relationship that existed between African-Americans and white people in America. At the time America was segregated with little interaction between African Americans and white people. If anything Hemingway may be using irony by having Bugs being the one who invites Nick to eat with him and Ad. It would have been unusual for a white person to have eaten or shared food with somebody who was African American due to the segregation that existed at the time. It is also interesting that out of all the characters mentioned in the story Bugs is the only one who is in control.
Bugs has control over both Nick and Ad. He tells Nick that he has to leave after Nick has finished eating and he controls Ad by way of the blackjack. This sense of control is not only important but it is also ironic as Hemingway is giving the reader an African American character who has control over two white people. Yet the reality at the time would have been different. African Americans as mentioned would have been considered to be subservient to white people. If anything control was in the hands of white people. It is possible that by having such a likeable character like Bugs that Hemingway is suggesting that the segregation that existed at the time was unnecessary. African American’s were ostracized yet Hemingway might be attempting to persuade society that their view on African Americans was incorrect or wrong. It is also noticeable that when Bugs uses the blackjack he does so in a controlled manner. He knows how much force to use. It might also be important to remember that Bugs is not hitting Ad with the blackjack out of malice but out of necessity. Ad is unable to control himself hence Bugs being the one who controls Ad. Though Bugs controls Ad it is also noticeable that he is loyal to him. Life with Ad is difficult but despite this Bugs stays by Ad’s side.
The title of the story is also interesting as all three characters in the story could be considered to be battlers. Nick survives being thrown from the train and after he eats with Ad and Bugs. He resumes his journey. Ad has survived all the fights he has fought and continues to battle on in life and Bugs despite what society might think of him as an African American is not bitter nor will he allow life change him All three characters have incurred difficulty but remain undefeated. Which may be the point that Hemingway is trying to make. He may be suggesting that all three have a connection. They have something in common though they themselves may not know it. It is also possible that Hemingway is suggesting that all three are equal regardless of the colour of their skin. Something that is a little clearer to the reader by the fact that all three characters eat their food side by side. Which under segregation laws at the time would not have happened anywhere else. The fact that Nick also looks back at the fire at the end of the story might also be significant as Hemingway may be suggesting that Nick realises that something special has happened to him. He has not been hindered by the laws of the time and has been able to experience the generosity of man who American society would tell him was not his equal.