Green Hills of Africa Summary
by Ernest Hemingway

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Green Hills of Africa Summary

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.

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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.


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

In his foreword to Green Hills of Africa, Ernest Hemingway says that he is attempting “to write an absolutely true book to see whether the shape of a country and the pattern of a month’s action can, if truly presented, compete with a work of the imagination.” The result is a novelized account of a safari he joined in East Africa from December 8, 1933, to February 17, 1934.

Accompanying Hemingway were his wife Pauline Pfeiffer Hemingway (called P.O.M., meaning Poor Old Mama), a friend from Key West, Florida, named Charles Thompson (Karl Kabor in the book), a well-respected professional British hunter, Philip Percival (called Pop, Jackson Phillips, and Mr. J. P.), and a visitor named Kandisky (really Hans Koritschoner, an Austrian-born businessman in Africa). Hemingway also hired many natives for various chores. The real names of several are given, including M’Cola (his gun-bearer), Kamau (his driver), and the trackers Abdullah, Charo, and Molo; some of the less important natives are nicknamed Droopy, David Garrick, and the Roman. One heroic Masai is simply called “the old man.” In mid-January, Hemingway suffered an attack of dysentery and was rushed for medical treatment to Arusha in northeast Tanganyika and to Nairobi, Kenya, after which he rejoined the safari. In his book, which begins after his return from Nairobi, he incorporates a few events that occurred while he was hunting in the Serengeti Plain of northwest Tanganyika in December, 1933, and early January, 1934. Interrupting his narration are many insights concerning writers and the art of writing. Green Hills of Africa thus combines a report about hunters in competitive quest of big game, subjective thoughts on literature, and Hemingway’s conscious and unconscious...

(The entire section is 2,082 words.)