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In Our Time | Study Guide

Ernest Hemingway

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In Our Time | Chapter 15 | Summary



The narrator describes an execution by hanging. "They hanged Sam Cardinella at six o'clock in the morning in the corridor of the county jail," the story begins. There are "tiers of cells" on either side of the corridor, and other prisoner have been brought into the cells to see the hanging.

Seven men step onto the gallows. Among them are two priests and the condemned man, Sam Cardinella. Some of the men strap Sam's legs together. Meanwhile, "two guards held him up and the two priests were whispering to him," says the narrator. A priest tells Sam to "be a man, my son." At the sight of the hood for his head, Sam loses control of his bowels. The guards drop him in disgust. A guard asks someone named Will if they should use a chair. Will says yes, and Sam is strapped into a chair.

Most of the men then "step back on the scaffolding," away from "the drop." The drop is the trap door that will fall away, causing the noose to abruptly tighten. Only Sam and a priest are still on the drop. "The priest stepped back onto the scaffolding just before the drop fell," says the narrator.


Sam Cardinella faces death badly, at least by the standard set in other stories of In Our Time. Whatever the whispering priest means by "be a man," Sam fails. He does not even stand to face his death; he sits, strapped to a chair. His failure to face his death like a man could force the other men to recognize what they are doing: they are attacking and killing Sam Cardinella. They are terrorizing him, and his body demonstrates the level of terror. However, the men continue with the execution, now using a chair. They do not let pity or disgust interfere with the execution.

No one is with Sam Cardinella as he dies. Most of the men in attendance are against him, including the guards who strap him in and the priest who whispers, "Be a man, my son." The younger priest seems to take pity on him; he kneels beside Sam when the others have retreated. Still, even the priest's pity has its limits: "The priest stepped back onto the scaffolding just before the drop fell," says the narrator.
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