Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 599
“The Snows of Kilimanjaro” is told in the third person and is rich with dialogue. In the italicized portions, which represent Harry’s mental meanderings during his frequent periods of unconsciousness, the reader encounters a man who has wandered around Europe, has slept with a great variety of women, and has used other people shamelessly.
Always, however, there is a nagging conscience in Harry that is closely related to the overall sense of loneliness that his exploits cannot eradicate. This underlying guilt is much a part of the Harry-Helen interaction in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.” It reveals a decency in Harry that on careful consideration eclipses his cynicism and self-serving behavior.
Hemingway is a master of visual imagery. In this story, for example, he writes, “Behind the house were fields and behind the fields was the timber. A line of lombardy poplars ran from the house to the dock. Other poplars ran along the point. A road went up to the hills along the edge of the timber and along that road he picked blackberries.” Readers gain a remarkable sense of place through such image-invoking descriptions.
Near Kilimanjaro’s western summit lie the frozen remains of a leopard. Why it was at that altitude remains a mystery, but the leopard, though seldom mentioned, becomes a symbol for readers to interpret. In “The Art of the Short Story,” he calls the leopard part of the metaphysics of “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.”
Hemingway suggests Harry’s impending death by introducing hovering vultures and a howling hyena into the story, all attracted by the smell of Harry’s rotting flesh. He also connects Harry’s rotting flesh to poetry—“rot and poetry, rotten poetry.”
This story is remarkable in the way it packs so many of the details of Hemingway’s life—sex, relationships with women, aesthetic outlook, ethical orientation—into a text of less than thirty pages. The writing is spare and muscular. It makes its points with little fanfare but with memorable clarity.
When Helen asks Harry if he loves her, his answer is that he does not think so, that he never has. This answer evokes memories of Hemingway’s story “Soldier’s Home,” in which there is a similar bit of dialogue between the mother and her son Harold, a soldier returned from the war. In both instances, the male character feels obliged to dash a woman’s expectation of an answer that is begged by her question. Above all, Hemingway sought honesty and truth in his writing and demanded nothing less of his fictional characters.
Harry’s final reverie is not italicized as are the rest of his unconscious imaginings. In this one, a plane appears overhead, flown by a pilot identified as Compton. It is guided onto a small landing strip by the smoke from smudge pots the servants have ignited.
The plane can accommodate just one passenger, so if Harry is to get medical attention, Helen must remain behind. Harry is loaded onto the plane, which the pilot has said must make a refueling stop in Atrusha. However, once the craft is airborne, the pilot aims it in another direction, flying over the starkly white Mount Kilimanjaro.
In this reverie, Harry sheds himself of Helen, who cannot go along because of the plane’s limited capacity, but he approaches the land of the frozen leopard. This ending is reminiscent of the ironic conclusion of Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” which perhaps influenced it. That story ends with the protagonist awakening from a happy dream to find that he is being hanged.
Last Updated on April 8, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 798
World War I
‘‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro’’ takes place in the decades between World Wars I and II. The first World War was a traumatic experience for Europe and America, for although it was fought largely in Europe it involved almost every European nation and, at the time, the European nations controlled vast areas of Africa and Asia. The war was remarkable for the sheer mass of killing it entailed. New technologies of war, including motorized vehicles, airplanes, and poison gas, were used for the first time. Probably most traumatic and senseless was the strategy of trench warfare, utilized largely in France and Belgium, in which each army dug a trench in the ground and attempted to advance to overtake the opposing army’s trench by waves of soldiers going ‘‘over the top.’’ Hundreds of thousands of soldiers died in these waves, but trench warfare only brought the war to a bloody standstill.
Hemingway saw action in the war—not in the trenches, though, for he drove an ambulance in Italy—and was wounded. Many of his characters, including Harry in ‘‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro,’’ carry around painful memories of the war. Some of his characters, such as Jake Barnes in The Sun Also Rises, also carry around their physical wounds and disabilities. The war and its unprecedented gore psychologically maimed countless veterans, and often Hemingway’s characters submerge their pain underneath the immediate world. This submersion provided Hemingway with a real-world correlation for his ‘‘iceberg’’ technique of structure and narration, and often in his stories what is submerged is the protagonist’s memories of the war.
Africa in the 1930s
For the first half of this century, Africa consisted almost exclusively of colonies of European nations. From the 1500s to the 1800s, the main European powers—England, France, Holland, Belgium, Portugal, and Germany—divided up between themselves control over the African continent for economic reasons. The European countries wished to take advantage of the natural—and, in the case of the slave trade, the human—resources of Africa to enrich themselves. Belgium controlled the country known until recently as Zaire; Germany and Portugal ruled the present nation of Angola; the French had dominion over much of the west coast of Africa, a region that included the current nations of Senegal, the Ivory Coast, and Algeria; the Dutch and the English fought over control of South Africa and its vast diamond mines; the English also had power over the large and very wealthy territories of Nigeria and Kenya.
Mount Kilimanjaro, the landmark that dominates Hemingway’s story, is located in Tanzania, near the border of Kenya, and this territory was a popular destination for European and American adventure tourists such as Harry who wished to hunt exotic game animals on safaris. Beginning with World War II and lasting until the late 1970s, most of the African nations achieved independence: at times independence was granted by the European colonial powers, such as in the case of Rhodesia (present-day Zimbabwe); at times the African nation fought a war to achieve independence, as in the case of Algeria. By the 1980s, no African nation was a colony of a European power, although each nation maintained a relationship of varying closeness with its one-time colonial ruler.
Paris in the 1920s
Ernest Hemingway was a member of a group of artistic-minded young Americans who, after World War I moved to Paris to live and write and paint and sculpt and, in writer Kay Boyle’s words, ‘‘be geniuses together.’’ Some members of this group were the writers Kay Boyle F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, Robert McAlmon, and Hilda Doolittle. The writer Gertrude Stein another American who had been living in Paris for some time, dubbed these Americans the ‘‘lost generation’’ partially because of the aimlessness, dissatisfaction with their home country, and refusal to assimilate into the culture of France.
Hemingway came to Paris in 1921 with his first wife, Hadley Richardson, after having been in Europe during the last year of World War I. During the time he and Hadley lived in Paris, he worked as a foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star. Also at this time, he lived experiences that have become inextricably linked with Hemingway, such as the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. In 1923 he published his first book, Three Stories and Ten Poems; in 1924, his first short-story collection, In Our Time, appeared, published by Three Mountains Press. Small presses like Three Mountains were an essential element of Lost Generation life; many members of this crowd either ran such presses or had their work published by them. During the 1920s, Hemingway and the rest of the Lost Generation wrote, wandered around Europe, drank, and just spent time together, as a result producing some of the greatest art and writing of the century.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 284
The African safari encampment of Harry and his wife, Helen, is in sight of the snow covered Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. The couple have set off on safari in Tanzania and had a wonderful time before fate overwhelms them. Harry believes that if they had hired a good driver, he probably would have checked the oil and not have burnt out a bearing. But the truck broke down, and they are stranded until one of the safari servants returns with help.
Harry lies on a cot with a gangrenous leg and is unable to walk. The infection sets a time bomb ticking, and circling vultures forewarn of death. A rescue plane should be on the way, and that hope keeps the couple going for a while. Fires, waiting to be set to guide a plane to a safe landing, have been laid by the servants.
Wildlife, the reason they are on the safari, is at a minimum around the camp, yet the presence of animals is felt throughout the story. A hyena crosses the edge of the camp each evening. Helen kills a Tommie ram, and servants cook it for supper to make a good broth for Harry. Mosquitoes buzz the camp. From his cot, Harry sees a far-off herd of zebras. Later from the plane, he sees a herd of wildebeests and a swarm of locusts.
In the wanderings of his mind, Harry travels to many locations that hold important memories. Hemingway used his own travels for these places: his grandfather's log house on Walloon Lake, Michigan; the apartment where he lived with his first wife in Paris; the ski lodge in Schruns, Austria; and his friends' ranch in Wyoming.
Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1063
Point of View and Narration
The type of narration Ernest Hemingway typically uses, the author himself said in an interview with George Plimpton, was fashioned on the ‘‘principle of the iceberg . . . for seven eighths of it is under water for every part that shows.’’ In A Moveable Feast (1964), his memoir of Paris in the 1920s, he expands on this. ‘‘You could omit anything,’’ he writes, ‘‘if the omitted part would strengthen the story and make people feel something more than they understood.’’ Hemingway’s characters usually bury not only their feelings about their pasts but their pasts, as well, and his narrators—usually third-person narrators who see inside the heads of the main character—join along in this act of burial. In most of his best short stories, the protagonists are carrying some deep psychological hurt that they will not even think about to themselves. Their minds are ‘‘icebergs’’ because the reader can see just the hint of these troubles peek forth at times, and must read extremely carefully to try to piece together exactly what is bothering the protagonist.
In this sense, ‘‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro’’ is a very atypical Hemingway story. In this story, the matters that trouble Harry are made clear to the reader; the narrator, who is inside Harry’s head, speaks of them explicitly. But Hemingway sets these instances of introspection apart, dividing them into sections printed in italics. In all but one of the sections that are in roman type, the narration is typical Hemingway: blunt, unadorned, almost devoid of adjectives, and quite uninformative as to what Harry is feeling. The sentences are short and declarative. But when the narration drifts into the italic sections, the tone changes. The sentences grow longer and almost stream-of-consciousness, with one clause tacked on after another recording the protagonist’s impression of a scene. The narrator describes scenes fondly and vividly, and uses metaphors and figurative language: ‘‘the snow as smooth to see as cake frosting,’’ for instance.
As the story proceeds and Harry’s condition worsens, the switching between unadorned narration and impressionistic, memory-laden narration becomes quicker and more frequent, until the penultimate section. In this section—the section in which Compton arrives and takes Harry away—the reader thinks they are in the ‘‘real world’’ until the end, when they realize that Harry is having another dream sequence. This time, though, the dream—usually delineated by italics—has bled through to the ‘‘real world,’’ and the only clue, before the end of the dream, that it is a dream is the sentence structure. In this section, the sentences are longer, more impressionistic, more descriptive, just as the sentences in the earlier italic dream segments were. The contrast between the ‘‘real world,’’ in which Harry’s gangrene has killed him, and the dream world, in which he is flying toward the ‘‘unbelievably white’’ peak of Mount Kilimanjaro, is accentuated in the final section, in which the narrator returns to his short, declarative sentences.
The flashback is a technique that Hemingway uses extensively in ‘‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro.’’ The story is divided between present-time sections (set in roman type) and flashbacks (set in italics). In the present-time sections, the protagonist is facing his death stoically, quietly, and with a great deal of machismo. All he needs is whiskey and soda to accept his imminent death. But in the flashback sections, Harry faces his life. His flashbacks show the reader that he has had an exciting and well-travelled life, but that he is also haunted by his memories of World War I. He served in the U.S. Army in that war and saw combat on the Eastern front, in the Balkans, and Austria. The violence and death that he saw there come back to him as his rotting leg tells him that he is about to die.
Harry’s past is not all negative, though. He is a writer, and in his flashbacks he thinks about his vocation and about all of the stories he wanted to write that he never took the time to begin. He has spent time in Paris with the artists and writers who lived there in the 1920s (one name he mentions, Tristan Tzara, is a real poet of the time, and another, ‘‘Julian,’’ is a thinly-disguised portrait of the American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald) and is familiar with the Place de la Contrescarpe, a popular bohemian locale of the time. His flashbacks also show that he is an experienced outdoorsman—necessary background to this character, so that readers do not think of him as a greenhorn who is dying out of pure inexperience.
‘‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro’’ alludes subtly to two well-known short stories: one by its structure and technique, the other by its subject matter. The first story is ‘‘An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge’’ (1891), by the American writer Ambrose Bierce. In this story, set during the Civil War, an Alabama man is being hanged on Owl Creek Bridge for espionage. As the story opens, readers see him on the bridge, having the noose put over his head. When the boards under his feet are snatched away, the rope breaks. He is able to use his bound hands to take the rope off his neck and swim away down the river as the Union soldiers’ bullets hit the water by him. After swimming down the river a long way, he gets out and finds his way back home. As he arrives at his house and as his wife stretches her arms to greet him, the noose jerks at his neck and he dies instantly. The whole story has been an imaginary scene that the protagonist has lived through from the time he begins falling to the time that the rope’s slack runs out. Just like in ‘‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro,’’ the seeming salvation for the hero existed only in the hero’s mind.
Hemingway’s story also alludes to another well-known story, Henry James’ ‘‘The Middle Years’’ (1893). Like Hemingway, James presents a self-portrait of a writer near the end of his life. James’ Dencombe, like Hemingway’s Harry, has an admirer (but in this case the admirer is male, not a wife), and this admirer gives up something important and valuable to be with the writer. Finally, like Harry, Dencombe dies, somewhat unexpectedly and ironically, at the end of the story.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 303
Hemingway's masterpiece is divided by printer's regular type for the main story and italics for the flashbacks that take place in Harry's mind. The imagined plane ride is told in regular print, giving the reader momentary pause before discovering that it is not real, but only in Harry's mind as he faces his final living moment.
Scenes in the African encampment are full of hostile dialogue between Harry and his wife. Hemingway sparingly uses dialogue tags and relies on the tone of the conversation to convey who is speaking. Harry's words are filled for the most part with disdain, but sometimes disinterest. Although Helen seems encouraging, saying the plane will come in time to save his life, she seems at times to disbelieve her own words. Still, she is determined to keep peace between them.
Hemingway never describes Harry, and his description of Helen does not mention hair color or skin tone, but her "good breasts and those useful thighs and those lightly small-of-back-caressing hands" and her pleasant smile. The writer focuses on attitudes, not physical attributes to convey character.
The flashbacks into Harry's past are filled with sensory details that reflect Hemingway's poetic style: "cool night," "rose-petal" skin, running "until his lungs ached and his mouth was full of the taste of pennies," "silvered gray of the sage brush," "snow so bright it hurt your eyes," "skis heavy on the shoulder." Hemingway also appropriately uses similes: he described a day on the ski slope with "the snow as smooth to see as cake frosting and as light as powder and he remembered the noiseless rush the speed made as you dropped down like a bird."
Hemingway stays in the third person except in Harry's thoughts when he reverts to second person (you), which is not a technique commonly used by today's writers.
Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 312
1936: Kenya, where Mount Kilimanjaro is located, is a British colony.
1999: Kenya is one of the most prosperous and stable of the African nations. It combines the colonial heritage of the British with the native traditions of East Africa. The country’s leader, Daniel Arap Moi, is criticized for his efforts to thwart democracy.
1936: Animals such as the zebra, rhinoceros, and elephant are plentiful in Africa. Although a number of American and European adventurers come to Kenya to hunt these animals on safaris, their numbers are not great enough to endanger them.
1999: Many of the most unique large mammals of Africa are endangered by poaching (illegal hunting), encroachment on their habitat, and years of legal hunting. The world community has taken steps to try and help these animals survive, but a persistent world market for commodities made from these animals ensures that impoverished Africans will continue to hunt them.
1936: The United States is suffering from the most deep and prolonged depression in its history. President Franklin D. Roosevelt is elected to his second term with promises to continue his “New Deal” programs.
1999: The United States is enjoying the most prolonged period of prosperity in its history. President Bill Clinton takes much of the credit for these good times, and seeks to have his vice-president, Al Gore, elected president in 2000.
1936: In Germany Adolf Hitler is absolute ruler. German Jews are oppressed by the government; many flee the country. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain will meet with Hitler in 1938 and agree to Hitler’s annexation of Austria and takeover of Czechoslovakia, with the condition that Hitler stop his expansionism there. In September, 1939, Hitler will invade Poland and start World War II.
1999: Germany celebrates ten years of unification after having been separated, by the aftermath of World War II for forty-four years. Berlin undergoes massive reconstruction and seeks to be the most modern city in Europe.
Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 96
- Many of Hemingway’s novels and stories were adapted into films. Movies of his stories include two versions of The Killers (one starring Burt Lancaster and another starring Ronald Reagan) and The Macomber Affair, starring Gregory Peck; movies of his novels include A Farewell To Arms, starring Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes, To Have and Have Not, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, and the Old Man and the Sea, starring Spencer Tracy. In 1952, the studio Twentieth Century Fox produced a film of “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” that starred Gregory Peck, Susan Hayward, and Ava Gardner.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 204
Baker, Carlos. Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1969. Baker corresponded with Hemingway and clarified many controversial points with the author while researching this landmark volume.
Baker. Hemingway: The Writer as Artist. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1952. This is one of the best critical studies of Hemingway's works.
Brian, Denis. The True Gen: An Intimate Portrait of Ernest Hemingway by Those Who Knew Him. New York: Grove Press, 1988. Interviews with his friends and former wives make this a well-balanced portrait of the famous author.
Donaldson, Scott. By Force of Will: The Life and Art of Ernest Hemingway. New York: Viking, 1977. This biography also touches on the critics' view of Hemingway's writing.
Jones, Veda Boyd. Ernest Hemingway. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2001. Written for the high school level, this biography includes an analysis of several of Hemingway's works by Harold Bloom and other scholars.
Mellow, James R. Hemingway: A Life without Consequences. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1992. This complete biography is filled with well-documented quotes.
Reynolds, Michael. Hemingway: The Final Years. New York: Norton, 2000. This volume explores the effects of Hemingway's depression on his writing.
Reynolds. Hemingway: The Paris Years. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989. This is the first in Reynolds's multi-volume study of the writer's life.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 343
Cowley, Malcolm. Review of The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories. In the New Republic, November 2, 1938, p. 367-68.
Ellman, Richard. Review of A Moveable Feast. In the New Statesman, May 22, 1964, p. 809-10.
Flora, Joseph M. Ernest Hemingway: A Study of the Short Fiction. Twayne Publishers, 1989.
Hicks, Granville. Review of The Portable Hemingway. In the New Republic, October 23, 1944, p. 524-26.
Kazin, Alfred. Review of The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories. In the New York Herald Tribune Books, October 16, 1938, p. 5.
MacLaren-Ross, Julian. Review of A Moveable Feast. In London Magazine, August, 1964, p. 88-95.
Rovit, Earl, and Gerry Brenner. Ernest Hemingway: Revised Edition. Twayne Publishers, 1986.
Santangelo, Gennaro. ‘‘The Dark Snows of Kilimanjaro.’’ In The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway: Critical Interpretations, edited by Jackson Benson. Duke University Press, p. 251-61.
Schorer, Mark. Review of For Whom the Bell Tolls. In Kenyon Review, Winter, 1941, p. 101-05.
Wilson, Edmund. Review of The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories. In The Nation, December 10, 1938, p. 628-30.
Benson, Jackson J., ed. The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway: Critical Essays. Duke University Press, 1975. This book is a good place to start a study of Hemingway’s short fiction. There is an enormous mass of critical information on his stories, and this anthology gives readers an idea of the dominant strains of Hemingway criticism.
Kert, Bernice. The Hemingway Women. W. W. Norton, 1983. Hemingway continues to be criticized for what many readers see as his insulting and overly simplistic treatment of women; this book is a solid introduction to the controversy surrounding ‘‘Hemingway’s women’’ and discusses the wife in ‘‘Snows of Kilimanjaro’’ in particular.
Stephens, Robert O., ed. Ernest Hemingway: The Critical Reception. B. Franklin, 1977. This book collects critical opinion on Hemingway from the time that his books appeared. Reading a book’s initial reviews, and comparing those opinions on a work to critical opinion half a century later, is often enlightening not only as to how opinion on a writer changes but also as to how the institution of literary criticism itself changes with society.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 186
Benson, Jackson J., ed. New Critical Approaches to the Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1990.
Berman, Ronald. Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and the Twenties. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2001.
Bloom, Harold, ed. Ernest Hemingway. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2005.
Burgess, Anthony. Ernest Hemingway. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1999.
Flora, Joseph M. Ernest Hemingway: A Study of the Short Fiction. Boston: Twayne, 1989.
Hays, Peter L. Ernest Hemingway. New York: Continuum, 1990.
Hotchner, A. E. Papa Hemingway: A Personal Memoir. New ed. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1999.
Meyers, Jeffrey. Hemingway: A Biography. 1985. Reprint. New York: Da Capo Press, 1999.
Padura Fuentes, Leonardo. Adiós Hemingway. Translated by John King. New York: Canongate, 2005.
Reynolds, Michael. The Young Hemingway. New York: Blackwell, 1986.
Reynolds, Michael. Hemingway: The Paris Years. New York: Blackwell, 1989.
Reynolds, Michael. Hemingway: The Homecoming. New York: W. W. Norton, 1999.
Reynolds, Michael. Hemingway: The 1930’s. New York: W. W. Norton, 1997.
Reynolds, Michael. Hemingway: The Final Years. New York: W. W. Norton, 1999.
Rovit, Earl, and Arthur Waldhorn, eds. Hemingway and Faulkner in Their Time. New York: Continuum, 2005.
Wagner-Martin, Linda, ed. Hemingway: Seven Decades of Criticism. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1998.
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