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What is significant about the use of the word "pleasant" in "The Snows of...

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jaredh00ten | Student, Grade 11 | eNotes Newbie

Posted April 21, 2013 at 9:45 PM via web

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What is significant about the use of the word "pleasant" in "The Snows of Kilimanjaro." Is it used to illustrate the characters' denial of Harry's situation or as a device to keep Harry from telling Helen exactly what he really thinks and feels about her? Or does it have a different purpose? 
 
 
 
 
 

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted August 4, 2013 at 3:49 PM (Answer #1)

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Harry is reflecting on his life because he feels he is dying. He is a dedicated writer but feels that being married to a rich woman is not only weakening his character but interfering with his creativity. This apparently happened to Hemingway himself when he divorced his first wife Hadley and married the wealthy Pauline Pfeiffer. The following quote from Wikipedia explains a great deal about this period in Hemingway’s life.

In 1933, Hemingway and Pauline went on safari to East Africa. The 10-week trip provided material for Green Hills of Africa, as well as for the short stories “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.” …. During these travels Hemingway contracted amoebic dysentery that caused a prolapsed intestine, and he was evacuated by plane to Nairobi, an experience reflected in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.”

Throughout the story, Harry expresses ambiguous feelings about his relationship with his rich, socially prominent wife, whom Hemingway always refers to as “the woman.” She tolerates Harry’s insults, recriminations, and sarcasm. She obviously knows how to handle this temperamental man. Characteristically, she seems only concerned about making his indisposition as “pleasant” as possible. He likes and dislikes her because she has always been so loving, so thoughtful, so generous, and so pleasant. She has what would be called “good breeding,” acquired from being born into a life of privilege. She makes Harry feel a little uncouth, which may account for some of his rudeness. She probably understands his feelings and may like the macho aspect of his surliness.

She shot very well this good, this rich bitch, this kindly caretaker and destroyer of his talent. Nonsense. He had destroyed his talent himself. Why should he blame this woman because she kept him well? He had destroyed his talent by not using it, by betrayals of himself and what he believed in, by drinking so much that he blunted the edge of his perceptions, by laziness, by sloth, and by snobbery, by price and by prejudice, by book and by crook.

Harry appreciates the fact that her money provides him with a “pleasant” life. She is a pleasant woman and has a pleasant smile. Nevertheless, he is restless and often spiteful. His talent and his work are more important to him than any woman or anything else. Harry, like Hemingway, is ruthless when it comes to protecting his integrity.

Art is a jealous mistress, and if a man has a genius for painting, poetry, music, architecture or philosophy, he makes a bad husband and an ill provider.  -Emerson

Harry feels that luxury and freedom from financial worries are emasculating him. He feels like a gigolo. Hemingway despised the rich because they were drones, parasites, although they were usually pleasant and led pleasant lives. He was something of a leftist, as shown in his best novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls, as well as in his democratic use of simple English.

Having a rich wife who was willing to go anywhere with him and to devote her life to him exposed Harry (and Hemingway) to many experiences he would not otherwise have had; yet Harry (like Hemingway) senses that the experiences, including meeting exotic people, were somehow tangential. They were distractions, and they were preventing him from having other experiences that might have been more germane to his art.

Hemingway and Pauline were divorced in 1940. He married two more times before his death by suicide in 1961.

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