In Our Time | Study Guide

Ernest Hemingway

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In Our Time | The Battler | Summary



At the beginning of the story Nick stands up, reassuring himself he is all right. The narrator reveals that Nick had climbed onto a freight train without permission. A railway employee, the brakeman, threw him off while the train was in motion. Nick curses the brakeman.

Nick sets out to walk back to the nearest town, and he walks on the railroad tracks as darkness falls. As he walks, he sees a fire, a campfire or cook fire, and meets two houseless people, Ad, or Adolph Francis, a former boxer, and Bugs, a black man.

Ad's face is "queerly formed and mutilated," probably the result of his boxing matches. He is initially friendly to Nick, confessing that he is crazy. He invites Nick to admire his slow heartbeat, but Nick doesn't have a watch to time it. Bugs shows up and cooks ham, eggs, and bread.

Ad asks Nick for his knife, but Bugs tells Nick not to give it to him. Ad becomes sullen, then aggressive, yelling "Who the hell do you think you are? You're a snotty bastard." Ad says he will beat Nick, before Bugs prevents the fight by knocking Ad unconscious with a blackjack.

While Ad lies unconscious, Bugs tells Nick how Ad went crazy. The hits he took in the ring made him "simple." He got a lot of publicity for being managed by his "sister," an attractive woman who looked like him. (She was not actually his sister.) Then they married. There was a public outcry and the resulting tensions drove them apart. His "sister" now sends him money from time to time. Bugs politely tells Nick he should leave before Ad wakes up.


The "battler" of the story's title is Ad Francis. He's fought in the ring as a prize fighter, and now he fights everyone—strangers, his, his ex-wife/faux sister. When Bugs met Ad, he was in jail for "busting people all the time." He soon picks a fight with Nick, too. Bugs says, "I have to sort of keep him away from people." Many of the stories and vignettes of In Our Time are about war. Ad Francis lives in peacetime, but he is at war with the whole world. Bugs reveals Ad has money, so it is not poverty that forces him onto the road, but rather his inability to live peacefully with everyone.

Ad finds a good cause to pick a fight with Nick. At first it seems he and Nick are similar: two men tramping along the railroad. Ad is familiar with Nick's experience of being "busted" by a brakeman. However, Nick is hopping freight trains for adventure; he is not far from his home in Hortons Bay. Ad has no home. When Ad turns mean, he makes their difference the focus. He calls Nick "a snotty bastard" and accuses him of "acting snotty about my face."

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