Green Hills of Africa Analysis
by Ernest Hemingway

Start Your Free Trial

Green Hills of Africa Analysis

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Download Green Hills of Africa Study Guide

Subscribe Now

As he is in all of his work, both fiction and nonfiction, Hemingway is preoccupied in Green Hills of Africa with the themes of heroism and personal success in the modern world. Hunting serves as a metaphor for living, the hunter becomes emblematic of the hero making his way through a hostile world where skill, courage, perseverance, and luck are all necessary for survival.

The book provides a portrait of that familiar figure, the Hemingway hero. In Green Hills of Africa, Hemingway himself plays the part. In his interaction with others, and in long passages of self-analysis, he offers readers a character sketch of the components of heroism in postwar Western society. The professional hunter Phillips demonstrates the stoicism, knowledge, and patience that the man of action must possess to balance his violent life-style. The Africans, too, are important as illustrations of what is respected, what not: M’Cola carries out his duties without fanfare, displaying quiet expertise, while the garrulous Garrick carries on like a hero in the safe confines of his village but quails beside the Masai warriors whom the hunting party meets on the trail, uncomfortable in the presence of what Hemingway describes as a natural nobility.

Hemingway’s major subject, however, is himself. The book presents a portrait of heroism seen from inside, analyzed with a great sense of self-awareness and, despite an occasional burst of hyperbole, with genuine humility. Hemingway looks inside himself to see if he has what it takes to be the kind of hero about whom he has written in the Nick Adams stories or in his early novels The Sun Also Rises (1926) and A Farewell to Arms (1929). He recognizes that writing is central to his life; it is not what he does but what he must do to make his life worthwhile: “I must write because if I do not write a certain amount I do not enjoy the rest of my life.” “To work,” he remarks, “was the only thing, it was the one thing that always made you feel good.”

The same kind of intensity that drives him to write well inspires him to hunt big game. Hunting well—doing all he is supposed to do correctly, with precision— gives him “the feeling of well being and confidence that is so much more pleasant to have than to hear about.” He seems to take special pleasure in describing the details of the hunt: how he carefully tracks the game, retracing his steps when necessary, working through the high grass to get upwind of his target, taking special care to pick out the bucks and avoid killing the does. He takes special pride not only in the doing but also in the description of such actions:I checked on the aperture in the sight being clean, cleaned my glasses and wiped the sweat from my forehead remembering to put the used handkerchief in my left pocket so I would not fog my glasses wiping them with it again.

He takes pride in killing cleanly, feeling sorry for the animals only when he does not carry out his role as hunter skillfully: “They all had to die and my interference with the nightly and the seasonal killing that went on all the time was very minute.” He blames no one for his mistakes; no hero honest with himself can do so. “Every damned thing is your own fault if you’re any good,” he tells himself in a moment of self-criticism. In a sense, for Hemingway—and for the Hemingway hero—ritual is all.

In addition to describing his hunting experiences, Hemingway devotes much of his attention to the craft of fiction. In discussions with his fellow hunters, many of whom are highly literate and familiar with his work as well as with the works of other popular American writers, Hemingway gives the reader his own view of the status of American literature....

(The entire section is 986 words.)