The Snows of Kilimanjaro

by Ernest Hemingway
Start Free Trial

How does “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” by Ernest Hemingway portray the theme of isolation? What is it about this period in American literature that pushes writers to reflect on isolation? What are these writers trying to say about isolation?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

This story portrays the theme of isolation through Harry's feelings and memories. He has developed gangrene in his leg, the result of a scratch that he failed to clean properly when it first occurred, and he knows that he is dying. Despite his wife Helen's repeated attempts to reassure and...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

This story portrays the theme of isolation through Harry's feelings and memories. He has developed gangrene in his leg, the result of a scratch that he failed to clean properly when it first occurred, and he knows that he is dying. Despite his wife Helen's repeated attempts to reassure and make him feel better, he treats her cruelly and tells her that he doesn't love her, that "[he] never [has]." She implores him to take care of himself, to avoid alcohol and to think positively, but he resolutely refuses her concern. When he does later tell her he loves her, the narrator calls it "the familiar lie he made his bread and butter by." Further, he calls her a "rich bitch," and it becomes clear to the reader, at least, that he doesn't love her, that he has only used her for her money. He feels that he was only "a spy in [the] country" of the rich on one hand, and he realizes that, in his life, "when he fell in love with another woman, that woman [would] always have more money than the last one." Harry, evidently, has never really experienced true emotional connection with anyone, and even this "kindly caretaker," Helen, cannot pierce the hard shell of his alienation from and bitterness toward the world. Money has been important to him, not love, and now he feels none. In the end, Helen's money allowed him to go to Africa, and now he is going to die.

This particular period, in the decades following the first World War and prior to the second, compelled many writers to reflect on the disillusionment caused by the war. Many felt disconnected, misunderstood, even that American values were skewed toward the material and superficial rather than the truly vital and significant. They seem to suggest that isolation, if we allow it, easily becomes the human condition. We have to work toward relationships, we have to prioritize other people, love and care and concern. If we don't, it is easy for us to become like Harry, privileging money over everything else, even a sense of purpose in our own lives.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team