The Snows of Kilimanjaro

by Ernest Hemingway

Start Free Trial

Did Harry die in the plane in "The Snows of Kilimanjaro", or was it a dream?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The end of Ernest Hemingway's "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" is ambiguous to be sure, and it can be difficult to understand whether or not Harry's trip in the airplane was real or imagined. At first, we read a section in which Harry is carried onto a plane and taken away, ostensibly for medical attention. However, rather than heading toward a city, Harry's plane instead flies toward Mount Kilimanjaro. Directly after this section, we read of Harry's wife, Helen, discovering Harry's dead body. While this sequence of events is confusing, it's important to understand that Hemingway is suggesting Harry did not die in the plane, or even travel on the plane at all; rather, he died in the tent, and the trip in the plane was either an illusion or a feverish dream. 

It's possible to interpret this ending in a variety of ways. On the one hand, it's possible to see it as a pessimistic conclusion. Rather than escaping and getting medical treatment, Harry dies a defeated man. This interpretation is certainly plausible, and there are elements of pessimism in the text, but I prefer to read the end in a more positive manner. The final image of Harry's imagined plane journey is a description of Mount Kilimanjaro, a place of grandiose, natural beauty. As such, though Harry passes away after experiencing many disappointments, his story ends with a peaceful image of a majestic mountain. As such, we can tentatively read Mount Kilimanjaro as a metaphorical representation of the afterlife, or at least of inner peace. Based on the beautiful way Hemingway describes the mountain, we can assume that this particular afterlife is a pretty good one. 

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial