Style and Technique

“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.

Historical Context

World War I
‘‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro’’ takes place in the decades between World Wars I and II. The first...

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The African safari encampment of Harry and his wife, Helen, is in sight of the snow covered Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in...

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Literary Style

Point of View and Narration
The type of narration Ernest Hemingway typically...

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Literary Qualities

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...

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Social Sensitivity

Hemingway was ahead of his time by writing about a discordant marriage. Instead of drawing a word-picture of a man facing death and making an...

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Compare and Contrast

  • 1936: Kenya, where Mount Kilimanjaro is located, is a British colony.


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Topics for Discussion

1. Hemingway had heard about the frozen carcass of a leopard on Mount Kilimanjaro from a former safari guide. Why did he begin his story with...

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Ideas for Reports and Papers

1. Harry mentions the names of many places he has visited during his life. With the help of an atlas, locate the The Snows of Kilimanjaro 405...

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Topics for Further Study

  • Where is Mount Kilimanjaro? What country is it in and what peoples live there? What kind of wildlife has its habitat near there? Do...

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Related Titles / Adaptations

Hemingway relies on the basic value of "grace under pressure" (his motto for his own life) when creating characters who are faced with death....

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Media Adaptations

  • Many of Hemingway’s novels and stories were adapted into films. Movies of his stories include two versions of

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What Do I Read Next?

  • The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway: The Finca Vigia Edition (1987) collects all of Hemingway’s short stories....

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For Further Reference

Baker, Carlos. Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1969. Baker corresponded with Hemingway and...

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Bibliography and Further Reading

Cowley, Malcolm. Review of The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories. In the New...

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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.