The Snows of Kilimanjaro

by Ernest Hemingway

Start Free Trial

How does Hemingway use stream of consciousness in "The Snows of Kilimanjaro"?

Quick answer:

In “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” Hemingway uses stream of consciousness to transport the reader between Harry’s thoughts and the present situation. The technique reveals Harry’s detailed reflections on his life, such as how he regrets unfinished work. Stream of consciousness also describes starkly different settings, as Harry recalls his days in places like Paris and Wyoming. Overall, the technique prompts the reader to reflect on human consciousness and consider its state in the face of death.

Expert Answers

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

There are several examples of stream of consciousness in this story. I will provide a few to help you understand how the technique is used, but note that there are many other examples of it throughout the text.

Stream of consciousness is a style of writing that mimics characters’ inner thoughts. The reader processes thoughts along with the character rather than being directly told what the character is thinking. In “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” Hemingway uses stream of consciousness to show how the character Harry processes the fact that he is dying. Harry reflects on his life and comes to regret some of his actions. Overall stream of consciousness gives the reader an up-close and personal understanding of Harry’s experience. The technique prompts the reader to reflect on their own lives and on the nature of death. For example, consider the following passage:

He had failed to kill his loneliness, but only made it worse, he had written her, the first one, the one who left him, a letter telling her how he had never been able to kill it. . . . How when he thought he saw her outside the Regence one time it made him go all faint and sick inside, and that he would follow a woman who looked like her in some way, along the Boulevard, afraid to see it was not she, afraid to lose the feeling it gave him. (Hemingway 12)

Here we not only learn that Harry regrets not making it work with a woman from his past, but we experience his thought process as he realizes he regrets this. This allows the reader to really think about life, death, and regret on a deeper level than if Harry’s regret was just plainly stated.

Hemingway also uses the stream of consciousness to prompt the reader to reflect on the nature of consciousness itself. This story shifts between Harry’s imagination and Harry's consciousness in the present. Hemingway’s use of stream of consciousness connects these states, keeping the story fluid while examining different dimensions of space and time. For example, consider when Harry remembers his favorite spots in Paris in detail. He recalls things his neighbors used to say when he is abruptly interrupted and asked if he wants broth. Then he slips back into his thoughts again.

No, he had never written about Paris. Not the Paris that he cared about. But what about the rest that he had never written? What about the ranch and the silvered gray of the sage brush, the quick, clear water in the irrigation ditches, and the heavy green of the alfalfa. The trail went up into the hills and the cattle in the summer were shy as deer. The bawling and the steady noise and slow moving mass raising a dust as you brought them down in the fall. (17)

Here we see how stream of consciousness is used to transport Harry throughout his past. He relived the Paris streets and scenes, and now he is reliving his time on his friends' ranch. Hemingway is able to smoothly switch between past and present, city and country, all through this smooth way of writing. But perhaps the most significant example of this takes place when Harry flies above Mt. Kilimanjaro in his mind:

Then they began to climb and they were going to the East it seemed, and then it darkened and they were in a storm, the rain so thick it seemed like flying through a waterfall, and then they were out and Compie turned his head and grinned and pointed and there, ahead, all he could see, as wide as all the world, great, high, and unbelievably white in the sun, was the square top of Kilimanjaro. And then he knew that there was where he was going. (22)

Hemingway does not italicize this last journey of Harry’s, making the reader initially unsure if this is imaginary or actually occurring. This is the story’s ultimate exploration of psychological state, as it examines the final moments of a person’s consciousness.

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