Style and Technique (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
“The Snows of Kilimanjaro” is told in the third person and is rich with dialogue. In the italicized portions, which represent Harry’s mental meanderings during his frequent periods of unconsciousness, the reader encounters a man who has wandered around Europe, has slept with a great variety of women, and has used other people shamelessly.
Always, however, there is a nagging conscience in Harry that is closely related to the overall sense of loneliness that his exploits cannot eradicate. This underlying guilt is much a part of the Harry-Helen interaction in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.” It reveals a decency in Harry that on careful consideration eclipses his cynicism and self-serving behavior.
Hemingway is a master of visual imagery. In this story, for example, he writes, “Behind the house were fields and behind the fields was the timber. A line of lombardy poplars ran from the house to the dock. Other poplars ran along the point. A road went up to the hills along the edge of the timber and along that road he picked blackberries.” Readers gain a remarkable sense of place through such image-invoking descriptions.
Near Kilimanjaro’s western summit lie the frozen remains of a leopard. Why it was at that altitude remains a mystery, but the leopard, though seldom mentioned, becomes a symbol for readers to interpret. In “The Art of the Short Story,” he calls the leopard part of the metaphysics of “The Snows of...
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World War I
‘‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro’’ takes place in the decades between World Wars I and II. The first World War was a traumatic experience for Europe and America, for although it was fought largely in Europe it involved almost every European nation and, at the time, the European nations controlled vast areas of Africa and Asia. The war was remarkable for the sheer mass of killing it entailed. New technologies of war, including motorized vehicles, airplanes, and poison gas, were used for the first time. Probably most traumatic and senseless was the strategy of trench warfare, utilized largely in France and Belgium, in which each army dug a trench in the ground and attempted to advance to overtake the opposing army’s trench by waves of soldiers going ‘‘over the top.’’ Hundreds of thousands of soldiers died in these waves, but trench warfare only brought the war to a bloody standstill.
Hemingway saw action in the war—not in the trenches, though, for he drove an ambulance in Italy—and was wounded. Many of his characters, including Harry in ‘‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro,’’ carry around painful memories of the war. Some of his characters, such as Jake Barnes in The Sun Also Rises, also carry around their physical wounds and disabilities. The war and its unprecedented gore psychologically maimed countless veterans, and often Hemingway’s characters submerge their...
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The African safari encampment of Harry and his wife, Helen, is in sight of the snow covered Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. The couple have set off on safari in Tanzania and had a wonderful time before fate overwhelms them. Harry believes that if they had hired a good driver, he probably would have checked the oil and not have burnt out a bearing. But the truck broke down, and they are stranded until one of the safari servants returns with help.
Harry lies on a cot with a gangrenous leg and is unable to walk. The infection sets a time bomb ticking, and circling vultures forewarn of death. A rescue plane should be on the way, and that hope keeps the couple going for a while. Fires, waiting to be set to guide a plane to a safe landing, have been laid by the servants.
Wildlife, the reason they are on the safari, is at a minimum around the camp, yet the presence of animals is felt throughout the story. A hyena crosses the edge of the camp each evening. Helen kills a Tommie ram, and servants cook it for supper to make a good broth for Harry. Mosquitoes buzz the camp. From his cot, Harry sees a far-off herd of zebras. Later from the plane, he sees a herd of wildebeests and a swarm of locusts.
In the wanderings of his mind, Harry travels to many locations that hold important memories. Hemingway used his own travels for these places: his grandfather's log house on Walloon Lake, Michigan; the apartment where he lived with...
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Point of View and Narration
The type of narration Ernest Hemingway typically uses, the author himself said in an interview with George Plimpton, was fashioned on the ‘‘principle of the iceberg . . . for seven eighths of it is under water for every part that shows.’’ In A Moveable Feast (1964), his memoir of Paris in the 1920s, he expands on this. ‘‘You could omit anything,’’ he writes, ‘‘if the omitted part would strengthen the story and make people feel something more than they understood.’’ Hemingway’s characters usually bury not only their feelings about their pasts but their pasts, as well, and his narrators—usually third-person narrators who see inside the heads of the main character—join along in this act of burial. In most of his best short stories, the protagonists are carrying some deep psychological hurt that they will not even think about to themselves. Their minds are ‘‘icebergs’’ because the reader can see just the hint of these troubles peek forth at times, and must read extremely carefully to try to piece together exactly what is bothering the protagonist.
In this sense, ‘‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro’’ is a very atypical Hemingway story. In this story, the matters that trouble Harry are made clear to the reader; the narrator, who is inside Harry’s head,...
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Hemingway's masterpiece is divided by printer's regular type for the main story and italics for the flashbacks that take place in Harry's mind. The imagined plane ride is told in regular print, giving the reader momentary pause before discovering that it is not real, but only in Harry's mind as he faces his final living moment.
Scenes in the African encampment are full of hostile dialogue between Harry and his wife. Hemingway sparingly uses dialogue tags and relies on the tone of the conversation to convey who is speaking. Harry's words are filled for the most part with disdain, but sometimes disinterest. Although Helen seems encouraging, saying the plane will come in time to save his life, she seems at times to disbelieve her own words. Still, she is determined to keep peace between them.
Hemingway never describes Harry, and his description of Helen does not mention hair color or skin tone, but her "good breasts and those useful thighs and those lightly small-of-back-caressing hands" and her pleasant smile. The writer focuses on attitudes, not physical attributes to convey character.
The flashbacks into Harry's past are filled with sensory details that reflect Hemingway's poetic style: "cool night," "rose-petal" skin, running "until his lungs ached and his mouth was full of the taste of pennies," "silvered gray of the sage brush," "snow so bright it hurt your eyes," "skis heavy on the shoulder." Hemingway also appropriately uses...
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Hemingway was ahead of his time by writing about a discordant marriage. Instead of drawing a word-picture of a man facing death and making an effort to forge peace with his wife, Hemingway wrote about a protagonist who seems bent on destroying his wife as well as himself. The happy times the couple shared were mainly physical. Hemingway does not describe sex between them, but mentions that Helen "had great talent and appreciation for the bed."
There are no racial slurs intended in this story. Natives are servants on the safari, but no mention is made of race. These men are called "boys" because that was what they were called at the time that Hemingway wrote the story.
Hemingway's disdainful attitude toward the very rich is something he felt strongly. Too much idleness and playing wasted talents of many kinds. In the story, Harry wants to believe that he is a spy among the rich and that he will write about their lifestyles, but he never did. He (and Hemingway) became one of them, and it was not a feeling he relished.
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Compare and Contrast
1936: Kenya, where Mount Kilimanjaro is located, is a British colony.
1999: Kenya is one of the most prosperous and stable of the African nations. It combines the colonial heritage of the British with the native traditions of East Africa. The country’s leader, Daniel Arap Moi, is criticized for his efforts to thwart democracy.
1936: Animals such as the zebra, rhinoceros, and elephant are plentiful in Africa. Although a number of American and European adventurers come to Kenya to hunt these animals on safaris, their numbers are not great enough to endanger them.
1999: Many of the most unique large mammals of Africa are endangered by poaching (illegal hunting), encroachment on their habitat, and years of legal hunting. The world community has taken steps to try and help these animals survive, but a persistent world market for commodities made from these animals ensures that impoverished Africans will continue to hunt them.
1936: The United States is suffering from the most deep and prolonged depression in its history. President Franklin D. Roosevelt is elected to his second term with promises to...
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Topics for Discussion
1. Hemingway had heard about the frozen carcass of a leopard on Mount Kilimanjaro from a former safari guide. Why did he begin his story with that information? Does it relate in any way to the other cat, the hyena that comes near the camp, or does it relate to the plane trip that Harry imagined?
2. What was Harry's initial reaction to seeing the vultures? How did that view change?
3. Had Harry feared death most of his life? What is his view of death throughout the story?
4. Did Harry love Helen? Why did he say he did not and then change his mind and tell her he did love her?
5. What specific things had Harry waited to write about? Why?
6. Why did Harry call it bragging when Helen told him she did everything he wanted to do?
7. What destroyed Harry's talent?
8. "The one experience that he had never had he was not going to spoil now." What is the experience that Harry's thinking of?
9. How does Harry feel about the rich?
10. Hemingway's working title for this story was "A Budding Friendship." He changed it to "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" before it was published. Which is the better name? Why?
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Ideas for Reports and Papers
1. Harry mentions the names of many places he has visited during his life. With the help of an atlas, locate the The Snows of Kilimanjaro 405 towns and list them and the countries they are in.
2. Several times Harry apologizes for the odor of his leg. How did his leg get infected? Research gangrene and determine if Hemingway was accurate in how gangrene develops and if it can be fatal.
3. The relationship between Harry and Helen is quarrelsome throughout the story. Do you feel that was always the way they related? Back up your ideas with examples of their behavior from the story.
4. Harry wanted to go on safari to "work the fat off his soul." What did he mean by this? Support your answer by excerpts from the story.
5. Pretend you are Helen and write an essay about what she thinks of her husband.
6. Harry believed anything a person did too long became a bore. Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not?
7. In your own words, describe the way death found Harry. What did death feel like? What did it look like?
8. Pick one of Harry's dream sequences and make a list of the different sensory details he includes in his description.
9. How does Hemingway tie the end of Harry's story in the plane to the beginning of the story?
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Topics for Further Study
- Where is Mount Kilimanjaro? What country is it in and what peoples live there? What kind of wildlife has its habitat near there? Do research on this part of the world, focusing on the twentieth century and the interactions between native peoples, colonizers, and the wildlife.
- There are many wildlife parks in Africa where tourists may see such wild animals as zebras, rhinoceroses, and wildebeests. However, poachers—people who illegally hunt these animals as trophies or to sell their body parts—are a serious problem. Do research into the endangered species of animals in such nations as Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe, and Tanzania, and investigate the problems caused by poachers.
- Explore the figures involved in the “Lost Generation” of American writers and artists who lived in Paris in the 1920s, including Gertrude Stein, Josephine Baker, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, Man Ray, and Kay Boyle. What brought these people to Paris? What did they accomplish there?
- In the story, Harry and Helen are on a safari in Africa. What is a safari? What kinds of wildlife do people see on safaris? Can one still go on safari today?
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Hemingway relies on the basic value of "grace under pressure" (his motto for his own life) when creating characters who are faced with death. He has instilled this value in Harry and in many of the heroes in his novels and short stories.
Hemingway uses the African setting in other writings. "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" (Cosmopolitan, September, 1936) also deals with the death of a man on safari. Two books, Green Hills of Africa (1935) and the posthumously released True at First Light (1999), recount Hemingway's adventures in Africa. Both are basically nonfiction, but Hemingway used fiction techniques in dialogue and organization and changed names of people on the safaris.
Although "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" was first published in Esquire magazine, two years later it was included in an anthology, The Fifth Column, and the First Forty- Nine Stories (1938). The Fifth Column was Hemingway's play about the Spanish Civil War. Later this story was included in The Snows of Kilimanjaro, and Other Stories (1961) and The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway (1987).
In the Esquire story, Hemingway referred to F. Scott Fitzgerald as the writer who was taken in by the rich and thought they were so very different from him. Fitzgerald asked Hemingway not to pick on him and to change the name if he published the story again. In subsequent editions of the story,...
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- Many of Hemingway’s novels and stories were adapted into films. Movies of his stories include two versions of The Killers (one starring Burt Lancaster and another starring Ronald Reagan) and The Macomber Affair, starring Gregory Peck; movies of his novels include A Farewell To Arms, starring Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes, To Have and Have Not, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, and the Old Man and the Sea, starring Spencer Tracy. In 1952, the studio Twentieth Century Fox produced a film of “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” that starred Gregory Peck, Susan Hayward, and Ava Gardner.
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What Do I Read Next?
- The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway: The Finca Vigia Edition (1987) collects all of Hemingway’s short stories. As a body, they are truly remarkable, but the early stories—‘‘Big Two-Hearted River,’’ ‘‘Ten Indians,’’ ‘‘Cat in the Rain,’’ ‘‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,’’ and many others—are haunting for the way that they embody Hemingway’s ‘‘iceberg’’ principle of writing, in which a writer should leave out seven-eighths of the information in the story.
- Hemingway’s most famous novel is The Sun Also Rises (1927). Its description of aimless Americans wandering around France and Spain is exhilarating, distasteful, and angering all at once.
- If The Sun Also Rises is the best-known fictionalization of the ‘‘Lost Generation,’’ Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast (1964) is the most famous nonfiction description of life in Paris in the 1920s, the milieu of such famous artists and writers as Man Ray, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound and Picasso. Another excellent portrait of the same time and same people is Robert McAlmon and Kay Boyle’s Being Geniuses Together 1920-1930, an interesting experiment in which Boyle and McAlmon alternate chapters describing...
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For Further Reference
Baker, Carlos. Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1969. Baker corresponded with Hemingway and clarified many controversial points with the author while researching this landmark volume.
Baker. Hemingway: The Writer as Artist. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1952. This is one of the best critical studies of Hemingway's works.
Brian, Denis. The True Gen: An Intimate Portrait of Ernest Hemingway by Those Who Knew Him. New York: Grove Press, 1988. Interviews with his friends and former wives make this a well-balanced portrait of the famous author.
Donaldson, Scott. By Force of Will: The Life and Art of Ernest Hemingway. New York: Viking, 1977. This biography also touches on the critics' view of Hemingway's writing.
Jones, Veda Boyd. Ernest Hemingway. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2001. Written for the high school level, this biography includes an analysis of several of Hemingway's works by Harold Bloom and other scholars.
Mellow, James R. Hemingway: A Life without Consequences. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1992. This complete biography is filled with well-documented quotes.
Reynolds, Michael. Hemingway: The Final Years. New York: Norton, 2000. This volume explores the effects of Hemingway's depression on his writing.
Reynolds. Hemingway: The Paris Years. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989. This is...
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Cowley, Malcolm. Review of The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories. In the New Republic, November 2, 1938, p. 367-68.
Ellman, Richard. Review of A Moveable Feast. In the New Statesman, May 22, 1964, p. 809-10.
Flora, Joseph M. Ernest Hemingway: A Study of the Short Fiction. Twayne Publishers, 1989.
Hicks, Granville. Review of The Portable Hemingway. In the New Republic, October 23, 1944, p. 524-26.
Kazin, Alfred. Review of The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories. In the New York Herald Tribune Books, October 16, 1938, p. 5.
MacLaren-Ross, Julian. Review of A Moveable Feast. In London Magazine, August, 1964, p. 88-95.
Rovit, Earl, and Gerry Brenner. Ernest Hemingway: Revised Edition. Twayne Publishers, 1986.
Santangelo, Gennaro. ‘‘The Dark Snows of Kilimanjaro.’’ In The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway: Critical Interpretations, edited by Jackson Benson. Duke University Press, p. 251-61.
Schorer, Mark. Review of For Whom the Bell Tolls. In Kenyon Review, Winter, 1941, p. 101-05.
Wilson, Edmund. Review of The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories. In The Nation, December 10, 1938, p. 628-30.
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Bibliography (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Benson, Jackson J., ed. New Critical Approaches to the Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1990.
Berman, Ronald. Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and the Twenties. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2001.
Bloom, Harold, ed. Ernest Hemingway. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2005.
Burgess, Anthony. Ernest Hemingway. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1999.
Flora, Joseph M. Ernest Hemingway: A Study of the Short Fiction. Boston: Twayne, 1989.
Hays, Peter L. Ernest Hemingway. New York: Continuum, 1990.
Hotchner, A. E. Papa Hemingway: A Personal Memoir. New ed. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1999.
Meyers, Jeffrey. Hemingway: A Biography. 1985. Reprint. New York: Da Capo Press, 1999.
Padura Fuentes, Leonardo. Adiós Hemingway. Translated by John King. New York: Canongate, 2005.
Reynolds, Michael. The Young Hemingway. New York: Blackwell, 1986.
Reynolds, Michael. Hemingway: The Paris Years. New York: Blackwell, 1989.
Reynolds, Michael. Hemingway: The Homecoming. New York: W. W. Norton, 1999.
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