Hemingway's protagonist in the story is Harry, a writer facing his death from gangrene, the result of failing to put antiseptic on a scratch on his knee before it became infected. The majority of the story recounts Harry's final hours as he dies on the African plain where he has been on safari with the current rich woman in his life. Harry's conversation with the woman, who is not named, and his life as he remembers and evaluates it reveal his character.
Harry is a sophisticated man, one who has traveled and experienced much of the world. He is cynical, but not insensitive to life--he remembers clearly moments of beauty as well as moments of savage human behavior. His conversations with the woman show that he has the capacity to be cruel. The bitterness with which he approaches his own death spills out in deliberately hurtful, cutting comments to her. Her fear and pain do not move him.
Finally, Harry is brutally honest in assessing how he has compromised his own life, betraying his talent by selling himself to a series of rich women:
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 . . . What was his talent anyway? It was a talent all right but instead of using it, he had traded on it. It was never what he had done, but always what he could do. And he had chosen to make his living with something else instead of a pen or a pencil.
As Hemingway depicts him, Harry is perceptive but weak; he dies filled with regret for the choices he has made.