Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

In 1934, novelist Ernest Hemingway was busy creating the virile image that was to distinguish him among his American contemporaries as a man who lived the adventurous—and dangerous—life about which he wrote. With his second wife, Pauline, Hemingway set off in the late fall of that year for an African safari. The Hemingways’ friend Charles Thompson accompanied them on their voyage from Marseilles across the Mediterranean and through the Red Sea and remained with them throughout their sojourn on the African continent. To be certain that they were able to succeed on the hunt, and to assure themselves of adequate provisioning, Hemingway hired veteran hunter Philip Perceval. The professional hunter in turn assembled an entourage of baggage carriers, gun bearers, runners, and others who would tag along to guarantee the party’s comfort and safety as they roamed the plains and hills of a continent teeming with game.

The hunting expedition lasted through most of December, 1933, and January, 1934. For Hemingway himself, the pleasure of the hunt was spoiled by a bout with dysentery which became so acute that he was forced at one point to fly back to Nairobi, Kenya, for treatment. Nevertheless, the party was able to take their share of African wildlife. Zebras, oryx, gazelles, local fowls, and other small game were hunted for food and for the pelts that would be used as souvenirs for friends. The big game that was the real object of their expedition included lions, leopards, buffalo, rhinoceroses, kudu, and sable antelope.

Despite their success, Hemingway felt continual pangs of disappointment and even envy as his friend Charles Thompson almost always bested him in whatever game they hunted. On the positive side for the novelist was his encounter with the country itself. He had never seen anything like Africa, with its wide expanses, its teeming game preserves, and its wide skies and unusual foliage. Even the American West, with its Great Plains and the Rockies, was not quite the same. He could not recall having read anything that describes the land or the experiences of hunting in Africa that prepared him for the exhilaration he felt during his weeks on the Serengeti and the beautiful hillsides of the Dark Continent. Partly as a means of remedying what he perceived as a deficiency in the literature about the land and the hunt and partly to take advantage of his experiences as a means of furthering his own career as a writer, Hemingway decided to compose his own account.

Green Hills of Africa is not simply a travelogue or an instance of slice-of-life reporting on the adventures of an inveterate thrill-seeker. Though Hemingway himself called it “absolutely true autobiography,”...

(The entire section is 1112 words.)