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In Our Time | Study Guide

Ernest Hemingway

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In Our Time | Chapter 8 | Summary



In an American city, two Hungarian men break into a cigar store. Two policemen, Drevitts and Boyle, arrive at the scene. When the policemen arrive, the Hungarians are backing their wagon out of an alley. Boyle shoots them both dead. Drevitts is "frightened" when he realizes the men are dead. "Hell Jimmy," he tells Boyle, "you oughtn't to have done it." Drevitts tells Boyle "There's liable to be a hell of a lot of trouble."

Boyle disagrees. "They're crooks, ain't they? They're wops, ain't they?" he asks. Drevitts is reassured but asks how Boyle knew. Boyle replies, "Wops ... I can tell wops a mile off."


The narrator in this vignette is omniscient. He knows everything, including the nationality of the two thieves in the cigar store. Readers need to know the thieves are Hungarian, or they won't get the bitter joke about "wops." Wop is an ethnic slur for Italians. Boyle is not in on the joke. Boyle shoots the men for being "wops" or Italian, and he is proud of his ability to recognize such a man from "a mile off." However, the narrator shows that Boyle is mistaken. The mistake emphasizes Boyle's indifference to human life. He has only this flimsy reason for killing—they were "wops"—and even in that reason, he is mistaken.

This vignette is not set in wartime, yet it, too, features guns and violence. The peacetime home the soldiers fight for is also a violent one. It is a country in which immigrants from the wrong part of Europe can be shot on sight.

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