What literary term explains the depiction of a dead leopard at the beginning of "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" by Ernest Hemingway?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In a kind of preface to Ernest Hemingway's short story "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," we read this:

Kilimanjaro is a snow-covered mountain 19,710 feet high, and is said to be the highest mountain in Africa. Its western summit is called the Masai "Ngaje Ngai," the House of God. Close to the western summit there is the dried and frozen carcass of a leopard. No one has explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude.

The matter-of-fact tone of this rather terse, unemotional passage makes the leopard's frozen carcass seem like just another fact of life, like the height of a mountain. The next line is more ambiguous (probably indicating the protagonist's journey as a writer), but together they serve to prepare readers for what they are about to read. The literary term for that is foreshadowing.

Foreshadowing offers the reader hints or clues about something that is going to happen in the reading. (In movies, this is often done through music. In Jaws, for example, we know the shark is about to attack every time we hear the ominous music.) In this story, we start with a dead leopard and end with a dead protagonist. In fact, we learn that Harry Compton is dying of gangrene within the first few words of the story. Given the foreshadowing of the dead leopard, we should not be surprised. 


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