Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
As the story opens, the speaker, later identified as Harry, is proclaiming that something is painless. It soon reveals that Harry and his wife, Helen, are encamped somewhere near Mount Kilimanjaro, which, at nearly twenty thousand feet, is Africa’s highest mountain. An epigraph at the beginning of the story, before the action is under way, describes the snow-capped mountain, mentioning that the name for its western summit is translated from the local Masai language as the House of God.
Extensive dialogue at the beginning of the story reveals that the speakers, husband and wife, have a combative relationship. Harry has ceased to be in love with Helen, although she adores him. In Harry’s dialogue, one quickly detects a deep-seated underlying anger and a contempt for not just Helen but all women. Indeed, Harry feels and expresses guilt about the deterioration of his relationship with his wife, who has quite willingly put her considerable fortune at Harry’s disposal. The rub is that the comfortable life that Helen has provided seems to have robbed Harry of the motivation he needs to write. Harry and Helen have left their superficial rich friends behind in Paris, where they are pursuing their inconsequential lives. Harry toys with idea of writing about the idle rich, viewing himself as a sort of spy in their territory.
It is soon revealed that Harry is on his deathbed, suffering from gangrene that is moving rapidly from his lower legs to...
(The entire section is 482 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Reminiscent of Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” (1891), “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” tells of a writer, Harry, who faces almost immediate death in Africa from gangrene. A rescue plane is to fly in and rescue him, but his prognosis is grave. In the story, the great, white, hovering plane arrives, sparkling in the bright sun.
The fact is that the plane does not arrive. What the reader is told is Harry’s final dream. His wife, Helen, comes into the bedroom and finds him dead. The story is important in the Hemingway canon because, like A Farewell to Arms and others of his works, it contrasts the mountain (purity) to the plain (corruption). Harry spends the last afternoon of his life quarreling with his wife. Like the protagonist in Henry James’s “The Middle Years,” written in 1882, Harry bemoans the fact that he has wasted his talent. Harry, the supreme egoist, is morally bankrupt. The gangrene in his rotting leg is no worse than the spiritual gangrene that has rotted his soul.
In his prefatory paragraph, Hemingway describes and situates Kenya’s Mount Kilimanjaro—at 19,710 feet the highest mountain in Africa. He reveals that close to its summit is the desiccated, frozen carcass of a leopard, whose presence at that altitude is a mystery. In sharp contrast to the pure, cold mountaintop and noble leopard are the overheated plain below and the hyena that emits almost human cries at the moment of...
(The entire section is 356 words.)
First published in the August, 1936, issue of Esquire, "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" has been called Hemingway's short story masterpiece. He wrote the story after his first safari to Africa and was so fascinated by the place that he told reporters he wanted to go back as soon as he had enough money. A wealthy woman read his remarks and offered to finance the trip for Hemingway, his wife Pauline, and herself. Hemingway turned her down, but he wondered what the trip would have been like if he had gone, and the story was born from that notion.
"The Snows of Kilimanjaro" is a combination of fact and fiction. Hemingway based the main character on, as he said, someone "who cannot sue me—that is me." In the story, while facing his imminent death on an African safari, a writer goes in and out of consciousness. During his conscious moments, he argues with his wife and seems intent on destroying her. During unconscious or dream-like states, he remembers his life and has insights into why he made some of the choices he made. He has regrets, fears, and some wonderful memories of good times, as well. These memories are based on Hemingway's own experiences and professional career.
(The entire section is 206 words.)
‘‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro’’ opens on the African savanna where a man and a woman are talking to each other matter-of-factly about the man’s leg, which is rotting away from gangrene. The woman is trying to make him more comfortable and make him believe that he will survive, but he seems to be enjoying the black humor of the vultures who are waiting for him to die. As she speaks to him, his resentment of her money and her upbringing comes out in his comments.
The first of his flashbacks comes at this point. In this flashback, he remembers being in World War I then thinks about scenes in numerous winters. Details from the war and from various pleasant skiing excursions mingle in his mind. As that flashback finishes, Harry returns to the present and argues with the woman before falling asleep. When he wakes up, the woman has been out to shoot an animal for them to eat and he thinks about her, why he married her, and why he does not like her. We learn that she is a lusty woman who was married before, who had two children and lost one of those children in a plane crash. Before he slips into another flashback, he and the woman have a drink together just as the realization that he is going to die hits him.
In his second flashback, he thinks about his time in Paris and Constantinople, but all of his memories are colored by memories of the war. When he returns to consciousness, she...
(The entire section is 521 words.)