The Snows of Kilimanjaro

by Ernest Hemingway

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What does "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" suggest about gender?

Quick answer:

Helen's role as a wife is one of dominance over her husband, Harry.

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In "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" gender roles are reversed to a considerable extent. It's Harry who's placed in the submissive role traditionally accorded to women. As he lays dying, he finds himself in a position of complete subordination to his wife, Helen. To some extent, this is merely a continuation of the fundamental relationship dynamic at the heart of their marriage, where Harry has been living for years off his rich wife's money.

By the same token, Helen enjoys a position of relative dominance in this relationship, taking on the role traditionally assigned to men. Harry's relative poverty, combined with his fatal illness, has given Helen a measure of control in her marriage unusual for its time. Even as the stricken Harry approaches his end, Helen maintains control. Contrary to what we might expect, she is not presented as some sort of romanticized nurse figure, a ministering angel doling out comfort. On the contrary, she remains cool and stoical, urging the increasingly hysterical and unhinged Harry to stay calm in the face of adversity. In short, Helen acts the same way as a man would normally have been expected to act in such circumstances.

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