What is symbolic about the leopard in the snow in "The Snows of Kilimanjaro"?

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Before the story begins, a brief reference is made to the frozen carcass of a snow leopard found near the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. One could interpret this as a symbol for what the story's protagonist Harry used to be back in the day. Once upon a time, Harry was a serious writer dedicated to the pursuit of the truth. But like the dead snow leopard, he's fallen short of his goal, assuming, of course, that the leopard wanted to reach the summit of the mountain.

The snow leopard also represents nobility and courage, the kind that Harry used to display before he became a cynic afflicted with writer's block. In that sense, the leopard symbolizes not just what Harry used to be, but what he could have been if he hadn't been deflected from his writing career by the trappings of luxury. Enervated by years of gracious living, and on the brink of an undignified death, Harry is now more like the hyena to which the leopard is compared near the end of the story in that he's never far from death.

Nonetheless, the dead snow leopard acts as a reminder that there's always higher ground to which one may aspire—if not in this world, then certainly in the next.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on December 21, 2019
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