The Battler by Ernest Hemingway was published in the short story collection In Our Time in 1925 and was the fourth story about Nick Adams, a semi-autobiographical character of Hemingway’s.
In The Battler Nick gets tricked by a man into coming close to him, in which case the man knocked him to the ground, even though there was really no logical reason for him to do it. Nick is mad and promises himself he’ll never let himself be taken advantage of it in that way again. When he meets a man along the road he tells him how he’ll attack him and return the favor the next time he gets a chance.
Soon, however, Nick learns that the man is very disfigured, with one ear missing, and discovers that the man is none other than Ad Francis, who was a famous boxing champion at one time. Ad explains how he is crazy, and invites Nick to eat with him and his negro friend Bugs.
They start to eat but Ad gets pretty upset, saying that Nick had no business being there and that is was uncalled for to come in and eat his food. He is about to attack Nick, but the negro manages to knock him unconscious before anything happens. The negro explains how he met Al in jail, and they hit it off, and how he pretends to be crazy even though he isn’t. He tells how Al took too many beatings, and then had his wife divorce him amidst rumors they were brother and sister. Now the ex-wife paid all their expenses so they could just roam around and do as they please.
The obvious message of the story is that Nick was young and wanted to fight, but then he met someone who had fought (not to mention gotten involved in women!) and was now disfigured and in bad shape. Plus it gives the reader a warning against women, since it was a woman who made him crazy in the end.
An interesting thing is that they talk about how completely crazy Al is, although he doesn’t appear to be that crazy. He does get mad at Nick for eating with them after he invited them himself, but only after Nick didn’t lend him his knife at the behest of the negro. Although things escalate quickly, it is not really unreasonable for him to be mad at Nick for not lending him something after Al is sharing his food with him. It’s not that Al is going out of reality, but that he has a lot of aggression and is willing to start a fight and inflict serious violence with only what most people would consider insignificant provocation. His imbalanced aggression is a result of his failure with women.