The Snows of Kilimanjaro Questions and Answers
by Ernest Hemingway

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Who are the main characters in "The Snows of Kilimanjaro"?

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Adam Worcester eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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"The Snows of Kilimanjaro" centers around Harry, who has contracted gangrene while on an African safari and is dying. He is with his wife, Helen, and they are in the company of several porters, who set up camp, cook, and wait on them.

As Harry waits to die, he experiences a series of flashbacks to his earlier life, including several wartime experiences. In the final flashback scene, just before his death, Harry remembers an officer whose last name was Williamson. The officer has been struck by a bomb and is in much pain, begging others to shoot him and end his misery. The only other character named in the story is Compton, an imaginary pilot who flies Harry, as he experiences his physical death, out of the world and toward the spiritual realm.

Though he's not a character in the story, Hemingway alludes to fellow author F. Scott Fitzgerald, whom he represents with a character named Julian and mocks lightly for the first sentence of a story he wrote that mirrors the beginning of Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby:

The very rich are different from you and me.

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Harry is the protagonist of the story. He is a writer who loves hunting (big game). He is dying due to gangrene and is waiting for a plane that will take him back to civilization.

Compton is the pilot of the plane that is going to take Harry back to the city. He is very kind and reassuring, and also fictional-Harry only dreams him.

Helen is Harry's wife. She comes from wealth, is an expert in shooting guns, and loves her husband, although he does not seem to return her love. She tries to care for him, and he calls her name out in the end.

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knlgemini | Student

Harry is one of the main characters in Ernest Hemingway's short story "The Snows of Kilimanjaro". The story opens with him in despair over his gangrenous leg. He and his wife, Helen, have come to the safari in Africa in an attempt to " burn the fat off his soul", in other words, to bring out the vitality in himself which he possessed as a writer long ago. Hemingway's hero possesses many unheroic attributes. Harry's mistreatment of his caring and loving wife is evident of his quick temperament. He seems a misogynist at first as he calls Helen, "a bloody fool" and even a "rich bitch". He spends his time by fighting with his dutiful wife about whether a plane will come to rescue him or not. This behavior is a reflection of his inner turmoil and because of that he is always looking for someone to blame. He was a bidding writer who married several times, each time to a woman richer than the previous one. To the readers, he seems a sadist too who finds it rather "amusing" to pass insulting remarks at Helen. He does not even hesitate in bluntly confessing that he "never loved" Helen. Every now and then, he reprimands her for dominating him with her power and riches. He is the one who has destroyed his own talent of writing by living in unproductive comfort and thus wasting his opportunities. Helen's money has poisoned his writing future, just like the wound which is turning septic day by day, gnawing away at the few days of life that he is left with. He keeps on shifting from present to past through a series of flashbacks which are italicized in the story for extra emphasis. He remembers people, recalls geography and various incidents that he has stored in his box full of memories. But now, as he knows they all will die with him because he never thought of writing about those things and incidents and when he realized it was already "too late" for that.

The other main character in this story is Harry's loving and caring wife, Helen. To Harry, she is "a good-looking woman" with "a pleasant body." He considers her a woman with "a great talent and appreciation for the bed." To the readers, she comes out as a rather unfortunate character whose love is not reciprocated by him. Helen, having all the riches and luxuries, is a submissive woman with no choices of her own. She seems grown accustomed to seeking her own happiness in whatever makes her husband happy. At times, she says, "everything you wanted to do, I did." Her world is so centered around Harry that even his indifference does not deter her from loving him. Her past life consisted of a dead husband, two grown children who abandoned her and lovers "who bored her to sleep." Her love life, thus, had been a monotonous one with all her loneliness and owing to that loneliness she wanted someone whom she could respect. Hence, this need of hers led her to her marriage with Harry. She loved the way he wrote and in an attempt to do away with her old life, "she had built herself a new life" with Harry as the center. She has undergone emotional destruction and what she seeks in Harry is stability and love. Although, she is a woman of substance and is strong enough to "hunt" and "shoot", her only weakness is pleasing Harry. She keeps the optimism alive to save Harry's life by saying, "May be the truck will come." Despite her selfless love, she is left alone to grief, the loss of the only world, when Harry dies and then again she is confronted with the "fear" that has haunted her so long- "the fear of being left alone."