Why does Evans discount the Tate/Gordon theory that the mountain represents death? “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” by Ernest Hemingway. 

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amarang9 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Tate/Gordon analysis stated that the story's symbolism "was not properly integrated with the action." Evans, however, makes a compelling argument that the symbols do agree with the action (and Harry's thoughts) of the story. Harry had two phases of his life: before and after/with Helen. Prior to his life with Helen, Harry was more active, bolder, more loving, more creative, and accomplished more with his writing. After meeting Helen, Harry "was already over." He didn't truly love her and this was part of his decreasing vitality, the second phase of his life. He is with Helen because she has money. His life with her became more comfortable and he became complacent. He was comfortable but in that complacency, his life was boring. Evans calls this second phase of Harry's life his "death-in-life" (a reference to "The Ancient Mariner"). Evans shows how Helen represents this phase, this "death-in-life" for Harry. Thus, there is a closer association with Helen and death than there is with the mountain and death. Therefore, it is too simplified, thus a misreading, to say that the mountain simply represents death. Evans states: 

. . . while it is true that the mountain stands for a kind of perfection attainable only in death, through union with nature (the peak, as has been mentioned is called by the Masai the "House of God"), it operates in the story not as a symbol of death but of life-in-death. 

Again, Evans invokes "The Ancient Mariner" using the term "life-in-death" to show how Harry's death is, in a sense, a fortuitous end. Evans explains the associations of white snow with purity. He describes the leopard as a symbol of triumph; although dying at the top of the mountain, the leopard had gotten close to the summit (an achievement) and iis frozen and thereby preserved perfectly. Consider Harry's last thoughts of reaching the summit with the purity of the snow, the idea/struggle of reaching the summit (a nod to the earlier, more adventurous phase of his life), and the immortally frozen leopard (an image of a wild animal, once full of life, now preserved in death, the soul symbolized here), and the mountain becomes more than just a symbol of death. It becomes a symbol of the eternal and the ideal: both in reference to Harry's earlier phase, let's call it his "life-in-life" to stay with Coleridge's terms, and in reference to the ideal of eternal life and/or transcendence from his "death-in-life" to a "life-in-death." 

Evans then goes on to show how Harry's second phase of life ("death-in-life") with Helen was based on complacency and the comforts of the wealthy. He was bored and bogged down by this "material" world. The plain, literally the material world/earth on which he spends his last days, is the landscape symbol of his last "death-in-life" days. So, in Evans' analysis, the plain (and Harry's association with Helen) are more symbolic of Harry's mental and eventual physical death than the mountain is. With all the symbols mentioned (purity, the leopard, the achievement of reaching a peak, etc.) the mountain represents a return to his earlier, livelier days and a progression toward a spiritual/transcendent ideal. 

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The Snows of Kilimanjaro

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