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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 224

Compton flies the plane that is meant to take Harry back to the city to save his life. He is confident and tries to make Harry feel better about his predicament. However, he exists only in Harry’s dream.

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Harry is the protagonist of the story. He is a writer and has had many experiences in Europe. He also very much enjoys big-game hunting. When the story begins, Harry is suffering from gangrene in his leg and he is dying in the African backcountry while waiting for a plane to take him to the city.

Harry’s wife Helen, also known as The Wife, remains unnamed until the end of the story, when a delirious Harry finally refers to her by name as he dies. After Harry reaches the summit of Kilimanjaro, the previous narrative voice resumes and again calls her simply ‘‘the woman.’’ Harry does not seem to love her, but he respects her to a certain degree for her skill with a gun. She comes from a wealthy family and Harry has contempt for that. She, on the other hand, cares for him greatly and tries to ease his suffering.

Molo is the African servant who serves Helen and Harry. He does very little in the story apart from bringing Harry whiskey and sodas.

The Wife
See Helen

Themes and Characters

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 575

Harry, the protagonist of the story, is a writer. As he lies near death on a cot in the African wilds, his thoughts go back to his life experiences. Hemingway skillfully develops Harry's character by use of his cutting words to his wife, his memories of other women and other times, his attitude towards death, and his ceaseless drinking even when he knows it is harmful.

Since Hemingway based this character on himself, he made Harry very realistic, drawing on his own professional resume to establish a journalistic background for Harry. The main character's wife was loosely based on Hemingway's second wife, Pauline. In the story, Harry feels that he has been bought by his wife's money, and it is a feeling he can barely tolerate.

Harry never calls Helen by her name, and it is only near the end of the story, during the plane trip episode in his mind, when she is named. Otherwise, he refers only to her as "she."

Helen is one of Hemingway's more developed women characters; he gave her a rounded background. She had been devoted to her first husband who died just as their two children had grown and left home, leaving her quite alone and needing to build a new life. She turned to drink, horses, and books. Then she took lovers. When one of her children was killed in a plane crash, she was devastated and scared. She no longer wanted lovers; she wanted a solid relationship, and she found Harry. She admired his books and thought his life exciting. She had started a new life with him, and in turn, he had lost his old life.

There are many minor characters in this story. At the African camp are the servants, and one is mentioned by name; Molo is called several times to prepare the ever present whisky-soda. Near the end of the story, the pilot Compton flies Harry off toward Mount Kilimanjaro. Other characters are briefly mentioned in the flashbacks that take place in the many locations where Harry has lived.

Hemingway's hero, when faced with death, looks back on his life and tries to make sense of it. He sees a talent destroyed by not using it, by drinking too much, and by laziness caused by too much money. Most of all, he is filled with regret—some regret for being selfish in his dealings with others, but mostly regret that he will not be able to write all the stories he thought he had time to relegate to a later day. He had put away the most important parts of his life, waiting for another time to put the emotions and thoughts on paper, and now it is too late.

The theme of facing death with courage and "grace under pressure," Hemingway's code of living, is dealt with from the beginning of the story when Harry admits that death is painless. He has lived in fear of death all his life, even been obsessed with it, and now that he is faced with it, he finds he is too tired to fight it. He accepts it. Still, he wished he had written about the things that had affected his life: the joy of skiing, the emotional upheaval of the first true love, the unquestionable loyalty to an old soldier. He has learned too late that every day counts and that tomorrow might not come; every day should be lived to the fullest.

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Critical Essays