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The title refers to the snow-capped summit of Kilmanjaro, which is lofty, faraway and, though visible, unattainable. It represents goals or dreams thwarted by unexpected events in life and "detours" one takes by facility or necessity. More specifically, the protagonist in this story dies from gangrene induced by the mere scratch of a thorn.
As Harry is being transported by plane to the nearest hospital, he contemplates the untainted crest of Kilmanjaro, regretting that he did not fulfil his own ambition to become an artist. Harry, a VIP globetrotting playboy, meets an agonizing end after intermittant bouts of fever, suffering and soul-searching. If he comes to terms with his own fragility and mortality, nature is depicted as an entity without pity but nevertheless noble, beyond the preoccupations of man and the human condition in general.
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