Green Hills of Africa

by Ernest Hemingway

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 344

Although the book is a novel, Ernest Hemingway established the paradox that he was writing “an absolutely true book” as an experiment to see how it might “compete with a work of the imagination.” While much of the information is directly taken from his experiences on a two-month East African safari in 1933–1934, the author changed peoples’ names and created composite characters based on several people. He also elaborated on relationships between characters, invented dialogue, and probably altered the events.

Indicating his multiple purposes for writing the book, Hemingway organized it into four sections, each beginning with with the word Pursuit: “Pursuit and Conversation,” “Pursuit Remembered,” “Pursuit and Failure,” and “Pursuit as Happiness.” While one kind of pursuit is obviously going after the targeted animals, which he often succeeds in killing, the other types are more abstract or symbolic of other facets of his life.

The novel’s main characters include Pauline Pfeiffer Hemingway, Hemingway's wife, whom he refers as Poor Old Mama (abbreviated POM). Those to whom he assigns pseudonyms are his friend Charles Thompson, called Karl Kabor; an English hunter, Philip Percival, variously called Pop or Jackson Phillips; and the Austrian Hans Koritschoner, called Kandisky. For some of the African people, he provides actual names, such as the gun-bearer M’Cola, the driver Kamau, and several trackers. While a few emerge as three-dimensional characters, Hemingway tends to refer to them by occupation and in relation to himself, such as “my tracker.”

As a safari narrative, the book includes numerous stories about tracking animals and killing them, which Hemingway enjoyed, and skinning and cutting them up, which he tends to leave to the others. In addition, the book includes a huge amount of description of the luscious African landscape, which Hemingway deeply revered. It is also an extended meditation on the writer’s art and craft. Some of the conversations with various characters turn into Hemingway’s extended discourse on the state of literary affairs and the position of the writer, which he sees as conflicting with or damaged by both critics and commercialization.

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