"The Battler" and "The Light of the World" can be viewed as contributions to hobo-tramp literature. Evoking the work in this vein of Jack London, W. II. Davies, Josiah Flynt, and Glenn H. Mullin, these hard-edged stories delineate late adolescent encounters--out-in-the-real-world experiences--that stand in stark contrast to those invented by Fitzgerald in This Side of Paradise, a defining work of what Updike calls "collegiate romanticism," as well as those presented in Owen Johnson's high-jinks romps--The Prodigious Hickey (1908), The Varmint (1910), and The Tennessee Shad (1911)--the Lawrenceville prep-school stories so avidly read at the time.
BEFORE JACK KEROURAC'S On the Road substituted the pleasures and ecstasies of driving hell-bent to Denver for the heartaches and disasters of the long car journey as suffered by the Joads in The Grapes of Wrath, there were the accounts of taking to the road by riding the rails. In the last decades of the 19th century and the first Of the 20th, thousands upon thousands of tramps and hoboes (mostly men, but some women also) rode the freight trains in Canada and the United States. Prefacing Towne Nylander's "Tramps and Hoboes" an article in the August 1925 Forum, a journal that Hemingway satirizes in "Banal Story," is an editorial note: "Living and moving among us, in this settled and civilized era, is a nomadic population of over a hundred thousand men and boys,--our tramps and hoboes. Their faults and their virtues,--for they have virtues, even if their behavior is essentially anti-social,--and their picturesque language and habits are depicted in this article by a sympathetic observer" (qtd. in Monteiro 144). Such beings journeyed east and west, north and south in close conformity with the changing seasons.
Occasionally, writers experienced in the ways of hoboes and tramps provided informative, explanatory, even, at times, romantically apologetic accounts of their wanderlust. Sometimes these books were put forth in an effort to reform the stereotype of tramps as criminals. Such, to Varying degrees, were the accounts, all written during the years at the turn of the 20th century, of W. H. Davies, Josiah Flynt, and Jack London, and, a couple of decades later, Glenn H. Mullin, to name just a few of the most prominent authors on the subject of tramping in English. To that list of writers we can add Ernest Hemingway and to the overall company of literary tramps, such as those in Robert Frost's poems, the fictional figure of Nick Adams, Hemingway's first hero. (1) For Hemingway, as he wrote about a young man's initiation into the ways of the world, the literature of tramping would provide a harsh corrective to the prep school and IW League educations of Owen Johnson's or F. Scott Fitzgerald's adolescent protagonists.
"The Battler" and "The Light of the World"--stories first published in, respectively, In Our Time (1925) and Winner Take Nothing (1933)--dramatize the "tramping" adventures of the young Nick Adams. Both stories owe less to young Hemingway's personal, direct experience of life, than to his interest in "tramp and hobo"...