In our Time: The Battler

~~ “Hello, Bugs!” Ad  said. “Hello!” Bugs answered. It was a negro’s voice. Nick knew from the way he walked that he was a negro. ~~

In this part of the book, Hemingway uses a little bit of racism. He is telling us someone is black just by the way he walks. Even though the racism is present here, the black guy is taking care of the white guy, who is obviously crazy. So, the black guy is being presented to the reader awkwardly, but he comes out to be a nice fellow.

-Samka Aljukic


10 thoughts on “In our Time: The Battler

  1. Yes Samka. You’re absolutely right. Hemingway gets a little racist during the book; especially during The Battler chapter. I think this is to be expected of the time period. As much as I disagree with racism, I do think Hemingway intentionally wrote the story the way he did to show the black man as a “nice fellow” which makes the readers realize that color is only skin deep. Sort of reverse psychology don’t you think? The heroism displayed by the black man represents the kindness towards our fellow man/woman. This I admire.
    Erika K.

  2. I was surprised when I read this as well. Hemingway seems to be so liberal in so many ways, rejecting many old societal ideas. I would have expected him to be better. I would agree with Erika is that maybe this section is showing people that color is only skin deep, but I think that would only apply to now. If Hemingway is going to call the guy a nigger, he means it in a bad way. He is surprised that black people can be nice and helpful, but is still trying to make them feel bad.

    Savanna Beach

  3. Going off the previous comments, while I have no explanation for the use of “nigger,” I have to wonder if Hemingway isn’t using the racism in the story a bit satirically. Like both Samka and Erika brought up, he uses the racist language, but then portrays Bugs as a sort of hero. Given the time period, it is to be expected of Hemingway to be a racist, but maybe (and I could be completely off base here) he wasn’t. Maybe he was using the racist language to relate it to the reader (because that’s what they would be used to) only to flip it on its head by portraying Bugs in a way not characteristic of the time period. Like reverse psychology as Erika mentioned.

    Or else Hemingway was racist and only meant for Bugs to be read as a bumbling, black sidekick stock character.

  4. I don’t think Hemingway was racist. The language used is obviously common of the time, but I think, like you all have said, there is a reason that the white guy is the crazy, ex-boxer who attacks our main character over a knife. I think Hemingway was just trying to twist our assumptions, and I think this is also saying something to Nick, who is kind of running away from life by hitchhiking and stowing away on trains. Nick is learning about the world, and the people in it, and although he is the one who recognizes a man’s race by the way he walks, I think Hemingway intentionally makes Bugs the hero, so that Nick will walk away from that camp fire a different man than when he sat down.

  5. And we should also probably ask whether the “focalizing consciousness” of the story is Hemingway or simply “the narrator.” That may be a bit of a stretch. Maybe a better question to ask is, even if it is Hemingway, can we imagine his use of the word as a sort of “tone setter” for the rough, indifferent, violent world he’s depicting? A world certainly absent of good, wholesome, liberal points of view on race? Maybe not. Maybe it’s just plain offensive, a word he doesn’t have the right to access even for artistic priorities. But I’m guessing that his use of it was deliberately for artistic priorities and not emblematic of his everyday point of view.

  6. I really like to think that Hemingway is not a racist, but this section, and some sections from his other works that I have read make me skeptical. I just can’t bring myself to believe that someone on the intellectual level of Hemingway could have such an ignorant thought process. If he was truly racist, I do not know, but I do have an idea of explanation. Hemingway seems to have a relatively equal disdain for people in general, so possibly, racism is just a byproduct of his disdain for the problems he sees with people in general. Hemingway may group all of his peers into a stereotype of simplistic and ignorant, so he wouldn’t see anything wrong with adding another harmful element of discrimination.


  7. I think that ascribing this to Hemingway being a racist is probably unfair. He is depicting a character, from inside their head, and the thoughts they are having. However, he also depicts the supposed object of the racism as unfailingly polite and probably educated who cares deeply about his friend. Even Nick’s thoughts about the black man aren’t racist, he doesn’t denigrate him in his head as ignorant or prattle on about his great talent for piano or have him shuffling about the fire humming spirituals.


  8. Racism as a concept has become quite prevalent in the new politically correct world in which we live. While I am not advocating racism by any stretch, it is important to remember that earlier generations of Americans did not adhere to our social rules. Moreover, to label Hemingway as a racist would be an injustice. His writing is very measured and there are no wasted words. If something is included is this volume, it is because Hemingway believed it was essential to the story as a whole. The fact that the black man in question turned out to be a quiet protagonist should serve as some vindication for Hemingway.

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