Harry, the protagonist of the story, is a writer. As he lies near death on a cot in the African wilds, his thoughts go back to his life experiences. Hemingway skillfully develops Harry's character by use of his cutting words to his wife, his memories of other women and other times, his attitude towards death, and his ceaseless drinking even when he knows it is harmful.
Since Hemingway based this character on himself, he made Harry very realistic, drawing on his own professional resume to establish a journalistic background for Harry. The main character's wife was loosely based on Hemingway's second wife, Pauline. In the story, Harry feels that he has been bought by his wife's money, and it is a feeling he can barely tolerate.
Harry never calls Helen by her name, and it is only near the end of the story, during the plane trip episode in his mind, when she is named. Otherwise, he refers only to her as "she."
Helen is one of Hemingway's more developed women characters; he gave her a rounded background. She had been devoted to her first husband who died just as their two children had grown and left home, leaving her quite alone and needing to build a new life. She turned to drink, horses, and books. Then she took lovers. When one of her children was killed in a plane crash, she was devastated and scared. She no longer wanted lovers; she wanted a solid relationship, and she found Harry. She admired his books and thought his life...
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