Green Hills of Africa Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

In his foreword to Green Hills of Africa, Ernest Hemingway says that he is attempting “to write an absolutely true book to see whether the shape of a country and the pattern of a month’s action can, if truly presented, compete with a work of the imagination.” The result is a novelized account of a safari he joined in East Africa from December 8, 1933, to February 17, 1934.

Accompanying Hemingway were his wife Pauline Pfeiffer Hemingway (called P.O.M., meaning Poor Old Mama), a friend from Key West, Florida, named Charles Thompson (Karl Kabor in the book), a well-respected professional British hunter, Philip Percival (called Pop, Jackson Phillips, and Mr. J. P.), and a visitor named Kandisky (really Hans Koritschoner, an Austrian-born businessman in Africa). Hemingway also hired many natives for various chores. The real names of several are given, including M’Cola (his gun-bearer), Kamau (his driver), and the trackers Abdullah, Charo, and Molo; some of the less important natives are nicknamed Droopy, David Garrick, and the Roman. One heroic Masai is simply called “the old man.” In mid-January, Hemingway suffered an attack of dysentery and was rushed for medical treatment to Arusha in northeast Tanganyika and to Nairobi, Kenya, after which he rejoined the safari. In his book, which begins after his return from Nairobi, he incorporates a few events that occurred while he was hunting in the Serengeti Plain of northwest Tanganyika in December, 1933, and early January, 1934. Interrupting his narration are many insights concerning writers and the art of writing. Green Hills of Africa thus combines a report about hunters in competitive quest of big game, subjective thoughts on literature, and Hemingway’s conscious and unconscious self-revelations.

The structure of Green Hills of Africa is complex, perhaps unnecessarily so. It is in four parts: “Pursuit and Conversation,” “Pursuit Remembered,” “Pursuit and Failure,” and “Pursuit as Happiness.” Hemingway thus is in pursuit of big game, knowledge of literature, and his own identity. The part about failure is the shortest; the part about remembrance is the longest. The section about conversation, mostly literary in nature, is shorter than that about happiness, which mainly concerns a successful hunt in an unspoiled area. However, Hemingway complicates matters. Parts 1 and 3 are mostly in dialogue and mainly concern past action. Parts 2 and 4 stress action and feature the competition of Hemingway and Karl. Furthermore, in part 2, Hemingway recalls events that occurred earlier than the “present,” while part 4 begins abruptly in that present, retrogresses, and concludes later in Haifa, far to the north. Since the action, whether past or present, is exciting, the reader is not distressed by time shifts, which actually increase the suspense.

The story starts when Kandisky’s truck splutters along a nearby road, sends potential animal targets skittering away, stalls, and must be fixed on the spot. Learning Hemingway’s identity, Kandisky, who bravely calls hunting “silly,” encourages his host to discuss writers instead. Hemingway opines that all American literature begins with Mark Twain and his Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884). He also avers that Edgar Allan Poe’s works are skillfully constructed but are “dead,” waxes negative about Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau (who he claims cannot read), and John Greenleaf Whittier, but praises Henry James and Stephen Crane. He complains that American writers are regularly destroyed by economics, politics, critics, drink, women, money, and ambition. Hemingway says that wartime experiences can help writers, praises Gustave Flaubert and Rudyard Kipling, and suggests that hunting and writing are equally valid artistic endeavors. He recalls drinking heavily with James Joyce in Paris, just before setting out for Africa. He gratuitously criticizes Gertrude Stein, though without naming her, for copying his dialogue writing technique and for being “jealous and malicious.” He says that a great writer must have talent, discipline, intelligence, disinterestedness, and a firm conscience. He must also be fortunate enough to survive, and he...

(The entire section is 1738 words.)