How does the story "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" reflect Modernism?

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teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Modernist literature reacted against what its proponents believed was the overly descriptive, embellished, and decorative literature of the Victorian era. One attribute of modernism, of which Hemingway is a chief example, is stark, stripped down language. If Victorian era authors reveled in loads of lavish detail, Hemingway, a journalist, cut a story down to its bare minimum. The dialogue often doesn't even include a he said/she said, relying instead on the reader to determine who is talking. This passage from the story is typical of unvarnished modernist minimalism, akin to modernist architecture's desire to remove all superfluous detail.

"Maybe the truck will come."

"I don't give a damn about the truck."

"I do."

"You give a damn about so many things that I don't."

"Not so many, Harry."

"What about a drink?"

"It's supposed to be bad for you. It said in Black's to avoid all alcohol.

You shouldn't drink."

As others have noted, alienation is a theme of modernism, especially after World War I left a younger generation wondering what all the loss of life of an extremely bloody and seemingly futile world war could possibly mean. How could supposedly civilized nations engage in such barbarity? The alienation that people felt in a world that seemed to have come unmoored, in which all the old values seemed to have lost their meaning, is also revealed through the stark dialogue. The husband and wife often talk past each other rather than to each other, and in this passage, the husband is hostile to the wife, saying "You give a damn about so many things I don't." Finally, the hopelessness of the husband's physical situation, dying of gangrene, mirrors the hopelessness inside the alienated modern person's soul. 

Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The story is very reflective of Modernism, as are many of Hemingway's other works, such as his first two novels, The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms.

The structure of the narrative is Modernistic as Hemingway shifts back and forth from the traditional narrative form to the italicized passages that reveal the protagonist's private thoughts and memories. Although the italicized passages are not written in first person or stream of consciousness, they are innovative and effective in exploring the psychology of Harry's inner life, his feelings and memories. Another unusual technique of structure is employed in the story's conclusion as Hemingway moves back and forth between events happening in reality and events happening only in Harry's mind as he approaches death--without distinguishing reality from hallucination.

Two themes common in Modernism are found in the story: alienation and Nihilism. Harry has lived a life of alienation, emotionally distant from his several wives and never identifying with or belonging to the wealthy society in which he has lived, courtesy of his most recent wife's money. As he dies, no spiritual faith sustains him. He has no thoughts of a Supreme Being or an afterlife. He thinks only of all he intended to write but did not write. He worships only the gift he squandered.

Finally, an especially interesting element of Modernism in the story is Hemingway's employment of allusion. Harry's tough and unsympathetic observations about his former friend Julian's destruction is an easily identified reference to F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway's former friend who had suffered a severe emotional breakdown.

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the elements of modernism in "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" is alienation. Harry is clearly alienated from his wife, Helen, and he admits that he does not care for her. In fact, he treats her abusively, referring to her as "rich bitch." In fact, he feels that all the people around him have sapped him of his energy and creativity. Harry's sense of futility is also modernist in nature, as the movement was marked by a sense of spiritual deadness and ennui.

The style in which the story is written is also modernist, as Harry's innermost thoughts, produced in a stream of consciousness way, are revealed to the reader. For example, he thinks as he is dying, "So now it was all over . . . So now he would never have a chance to finish it." The unclear pronouns, such as "it," make his meaning unclear, as the reader is not sure whether Harry is thinking about not finishing his novel or his life. This type of inwardly directed, idiosyncratic stream of consciousness is characteristic of novels written in the modernist style. 

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The Snows of Kilimanjaro

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