The Snows of Kilimanjaro Questions and Answers
by Ernest Hemingway

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What is the main theme of the story "The Snows of Kilimanjaro"?

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The main theme of this story is facing death, but as with much of Hemingway, the story also explores isolation and alienation. Harry is attended by his wife Helen as he dies of gangrene poisoning in Africa, but he does not love her. He thinks, as his mind wanders over his life, of the prostitutes he visited in Constantinople in earlier years to try to alleviate his loneliness. At the end of his life, he hallucinates that Compton has come in a two-seater airplane and that they will go off to seek medical care, leaving Helen behind. In other words, Harry does not really want his wife to join him on his final journey. That Compton and the plane are symbols of death is underscored when the plane, in his reveries, flies towards...

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aliyaanswers | Student

Following are the main themes of the story "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" written by Ernest Hemingway.

  • The theme of Death: A major theme of the story is death. The story's thematic concern is not simply death, but the ideas of 'life in death' and 'death in life'.
    Life in Death: Harry, the protagonist of the story, had once exhibited immense energy and vitality even in the direst circumstances. He had been full of life and vigour. The hardships of wartime had not rotten away his spirit and zeal for living. Thus, he had lived a 'life in death'.
    Death in Life: The luxuries of his later life with Helen had eased Harry into a state of inactivity or dormancy. He had completely given up writing and wasted away his talent, due to which he lived with a constant guilt. The abundance of comforts had softened his will and motivation. He had been physically alive, but spiritually dead. Thus, this life without a purpose was a 'death in life'.
  • Alienation: Another theme central to the story is alienation. The lack of a sense of
    belonging, the absence of true love and a constant sense of isolation are characteristics of the modern man, and are reflected through both Harry and Helen.
  • Moral Decline: Yet another significant theme which is often ignored while studying the story is the moral decline that one undergoes when lured by the lust for material comforts. Harry traded away his conscience by relying on a lie to sustain a relationship that ensured him his 'bread and butter'. There remained no place for virtues and morals.
shimani516 | Student

Death is the main theme of Hemingway's short story "The Snows of Kilimanjaro". Through Harry's character one can see this theme prevailing throughout the story. Saul Bellow, an American- Canadian writer, has called Hemingway's heroes as being "the complete opposite" of the traditional and conventional heroes and Harry can be seen as one such example.

Hemingway, through his use of symbolism, has justified this imminent theme. "The carcass of the leopard" which lies in the snows of Kilimanjaro can be seen as the one which is still living its 'life in death'. Even though the leopard is dead, one can see that how its vitality and vigour brought it chasing some animal there in that "altitude" and thus attained salvation.

The other symbols that Hemingway uses are "the wound", "the vultures" , "the hyenas" and "Helen" too. The gangrenous "wound" can be seen as the one which has affected Harry not only physically by making him smell the overpowering "stench" but mentally too i.e. His continuous guilt of not writing enough, thus destroying his own talent by having 'death in life'. Some critics, however, have seen "Helen" as the symbol of death because she is the one who keeps on providing him with luxuries and thus taking away all his vitality to write. She does what he likes and even though being a woman of substance, she never questions making him reach to his impendig death. "The vultures" and "the hyenas" can, too, be seen as the symbols of Harry's impending death, thus death approaching death. Thus, through the amalgamation of different symbols, the theme of the short story is clearly justified.