Explain Ernest Hemingway's comparison of good writing to an iceberg by relating that method of writing to his own practice in "Snows of Kilimanjaro."     

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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A very fine discussion of the style of this story included in the eNotes study guide (see link below)  contends that in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” Hemingway does not use his “iceberg” theory of writing as much as he does in some of his other works.  The “iceberg” approach to writing asserts that good writing should imply much more than it openly states.  Effective writing suggests meaning rather than making meaning obvious, in much the same way that only the tip of an iceberg is visible, while the vast bulk of it lies beneath the surface of the water.  For a splendid example of the iceberg theory in practice, read Hemingway’s story “Hills Like White Elephants,” a very brief work that implies a great deal more than it ever openly says.

Yet even if “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” uses the iceberg method less extensively than it is used in other stories by Hemingway, its use is still evident.  Consider, for example, the story’s very first sentences:

“The marvelous thing is that it’s painless," he said. "That's how you know when it starts."

"Is it really?"

"Absolutely. I'm awfully sorry about the odor though. That must bother you."

"Don't! Please don't."

Who is the male speaker here?  What is painless? What is the double meaning of “marvelous” (in other words, how can that word be read both as serious and as possibly ironic)? What is the “it” of the second sentence? To whom is the male speaking? What is implied by the brief question spoken by the unidentified interlocutor? What is the tone of that question? In fact, what is the tone – or, rather, what are the tones – of all the sentences quoted here? In particular, what does the statement “That must bother you” imply about the relationship between the unidentified male and the unidentified person he is addressing? Is he genuinely concerned about bothering the other person?  Is he being sardonic? Is there a caustic edge to his statement? What does his statement imply about the other person? What does his statement imply about his attitude toward the other person? Why is a bad odor involved?

What, exactly, is the situation in which they find themselves?  Where are they?  Why does the second person respond so vehemently (“Don’t! Please don’t.”) to his statement about something bothering that person? What does the second person’s response imply about the nature of their relationship? What is/are the tone(s) of the second person’s reply? Is the person pained? Annoyed? Concerned? Angry? Vulnerable? Strong? Hemingway doesn’t explain, just as he doesn’t explain much of anything here. Instead, he merely reports speech, letting readers make their own assumptions and draw their own conclusions.  This is the “iceberg method” perfectly exemplified in less than thirty-five words.