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'If you have to go away,' she said, 'is it absolutely necessary to kill off everything you leave behind? I mean do you have to take away everything? Do you have to kill your horse, and your wife and burn your saddle and your armour?'
'Yes,' he said. 'Your damned money was my armour. My Swift and my Armour.'
'Don't.'
'All right. I'll stop that. I don't want to hurt you.'
'It's a little bit late now.'

Ernest Hemingway. The Snows of Kilimanjaro

I'm pretty puzzled. What's the meaning of that 'my Swift and my Armour'?

I can't help to notice those capital 'S' and 'A'. Is it a reference to the Swiss Army knife or what?

Swift is usually an adjective and here it's a noun, but as a noun is an animal or a part of a machine. That doesn't make sense (to me at least).

How come this is supposed to be offensive/hurting?

By the way, Hemingway was born in Illinois. Isn't armour British English? I thought in America they write armor. Is this made on purpose?

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    It is possible that the initial letters denote that these are names and that he is making a joke of some sort about two industrialists, AF Swift and PD Armour. tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/dis02 They ran meat processing businesses in the early 1900s and came together in an enterprise in Fort Worth. They both had the reputation of 'using everything but the squeal' and their joint venture extracted similar value from their business partners.
    – Spagirl
    Jul 28, 2016 at 15:08

3 Answers 3

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The second sentence of Harry’s response, “My Swift and my Armour” (58) refers to corporations which illegally pursued profits, presenting money as a corrupting influence. Swift and Armour were meatpacking corporations based in Chicago that were, according to Paul Street, part of a group that “dominated the industry through the 1940s”.


Harry’s reference to Helen’s money as his Swift and his Armour takes the idea of the protection and safety of armour and changes it to suggest that monetary wealth has been Harry’s enemy


This University of Central Oklahoma Thesis by Nathan Billings discusses

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  • Now I see why she feels hurt. He's blaming her money for his ethical corruption (his artistic immobility) while she's just giving him the best life she could provide to him. Right after doing the question I thought 'swift' is similar to 'sword' and that 'my sword and my armour' was meaningful, but didn't explain the change from 'sword' to 'Swift'. On second thought maybe it's a triple pun.
    – cdlvcdlv
    Jul 28, 2016 at 17:15
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The pun embedded in the line "My Swift and my Armour" is not just that Swift and Armour are two companies with (arguably) dubious corporate reputations. Both are (or were, in Hemingway's time) well known for their tinned meats. Most advertisement's for these products emphasize their appearance when being served, but you can see pictures of the traditional tins for Swift's Premium Hostess Ham and Armour Golden Star Ham in some old advertisements.

Harry thus implies that he is less like a knight errant in a suit of armor than like a slab of cooked meat in a tin can. Beyond that, as the source cited in Spagirl's answer points out, the silver armor enclosing Harry isn't even something as functional as a sealed tin can; it's Helen's money.

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  • Good point! That would make it a quadruple pun. It's a pity nowadays this goes unnoticed.
    – cdlvcdlv
    Sep 19, 2017 at 11:31
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Swift and Armour killed soldiers with rotten beef in the Spanish American war and WWI. That's the context. See The Embalmed Beef scandal.

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    – Community Bot
    Feb 19 at 22:48
  • Edit your answer to insert this link: The Embalmed Beef scandal. Feb 22 at 0:38

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