In English literature courses, the iceberg theory refers to the idea that the meaning of a work of literature is hidden under the surface; in other words, understanding what the story is about will take some digging and thorough investigation. Hemingway once wrote on his work, “I always try to write...
In English literature courses, the iceberg theory refers to the idea that the meaning of a work of literature is hidden under the surface; in other words, understanding what the story is about will take some digging and thorough investigation. Hemingway once wrote on his work, “I always try to write on the principle of the iceberg . . . there is seven-eighths of it under water for every part that shows.” With works like "Hills Like White Elephants" and "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber", Hemingway certainly crafts intricate and psychologically complex stories under stories that are deceivingly simplistic.
In Hemingway's "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," which is perhaps one of the author's most notable and widely discussed works, the iceberg theory is vital in unraveling an understanding of the text. The story's protagonist, Harry, is descending into a fatal illness caused by a gangrenous infection in his leg. As the story progresses, Harry reflects on his life, particularly with his lover Helen, whom he claims to despise.
The gangrenous infection, which causes his leg to stink and rot, can be seen as a decomposition of his dedication to his morality and his personal ideologies. Even more than that, the rotting of his leg is a symbol for the rotting of his own talent. The story reads,
He had destroyed his talent by not using it, by betrayals himself and what he believed in, by drinking to much that it blunted the edge of his perceptions, by laziness, by sloth, and by snobbery, by pride and by prejudice, by hook and by crook.
Reading this passage and comparing it to the character's slow death and the literal decomposition of his body, it becomes clear that Hemingway has crafted a tale about more than a man's physical death.
While it is never entirely safe to read works of fiction as autobiographical, "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" shares many characteristics with Hemingway himself. Hemingway held a certain contempt for the middle and upper classes, a trait shared by Harry, who finds himself morally compromised by loving the rich woman named Helen. Hemingway also loved African safaris, was a professional writer, and held traditionally masculine traits--like refraining from showing emotional affection to women--just like Harry. In this case, "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" acts as a perfect of the iceberg theory in several levels. There is, of course, the metaphorical aspects within the story, but there is also a psychological analysis of the author himself through his own work.