The Snows of Kilimanjaro

by Ernest Hemingway

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How does Hemingway represent females in "The Snows of Kilimanjaro"?

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Over the years, there have been different critical interpretations of Helen in "The Snows of Kilimanjaro." Edmund Wilson saw her as an emasculating force who had taken away all of Harry's drive and motivation so that he is no longer able to write. Wilson's view is in line with that of Harry himself, who refers to Helen as a "rich bitch." Harry's life of comfort, made possible by his wife's money, has dulled his senses and made him unable to write.

However, more recent critics have found that Helen is the stronger and more generous of the couple (see the article by Whitlow in the "sources" below). As Harry is dying, he continually snipes at Helen and is cruel to her to the point of being abusive, while she, genuinely caring, tries to make him feel at ease. He perhaps feels badly about himself because he is the weaker and less admirable of the two. While he complains and says nasty things to her, Helen shoots game and tries to give Harry courage to survive. She can do traditionally masculine things, like support her spouse and shoot, as well as feminine things, like care for her husband; Meanwhile, Harry lives on her money and does not produce anything. She is portrayed as truly caring for him, while he has tired of her. In many ways, she is the far more genuine and likable character. 

Source:

Roger Whitlow. "Critical Misinterpretation of Hemingway's Helen." Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, Vol. 3, No. 3 (Autumn, 1978), pp. 52-54. Published by: University of Nebraska Press DOI: 10.2307/3346330 Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3346330.

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Prior to meeting Helen, Harry was relatively poor and had much more inspiration for his writing. Harry sometimes blames Helen, sometimes blames himself. He assumes that his comfortable life with Helen has made him complacent and has dulled his talent for writing. When he becomes sick with gangrene, this anger he has for Helen (justified or not) increases. On trading his old life for a new one with her, "He had traded it for security, for comfort too, there was no denying that, and for what else? He did not know." But it would clearly be wrong to blame Helen for the loss of his talent. Hemingway makes this clear. 

As he is dying and immobile, Helen goes out shooting. Combine this with the fact that he lived with the comfort of her money, and it is possible that Harry felt emasculated by Helen; but it is his choice to stay with her in this comfortable life. He can blame her, but it is his choice. 

Hemingway portrays Helen as a genuinely caring person and she becomes more of a mother figure than a lover to Harry, especially when he becomes ill. Harry paints her as a "rich bitch" but one who genuinely cares for him. And Harry seems to envision himself, his life before Helen, as masculine, strong, exciting, and adventurous. However, in the context of the story (in Africa), Harry is weak, cynical, and even cowardly. Helen, on the other hand, remains positive and strong. That may be a bit harsh considering Harry is facing death, but his weakness shows. 

In this analysis, Helen is the strong one in terms of character. There is also a bit of reversal in terms gender roles. While Harry is basically an invalid, waiting at the tent, Helen goes off hunting. She takes on the typical male role while also becoming like a mother to Harry. Harry crumbles when his traditional male role is gone. Essentially, Helen becomes the dominant one in the relationship. 

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