The Snows of Kilimanjaro

by Ernest Hemingway

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What is the main theme of "The Snows of Kilimanjaro"?

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The main theme of the story “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” is the ever-presence of death. To be more specific, the theme concerns how humans deal with the imminent and all-consuming nature of death.

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The story is about the slow death of an unnamed writer on a safari in Africa. His leg is rotting away due to gangrene caused by a scratch he got on a thorn in the bush. The trivial nature of the wound that proved fatal suggests one theme, that death is omnipresent and never far away. Another main theme of the story is the opposite, focusing on the random events and feelings that make up life and how the specificity of these moments, trivial as they are, make them precious.

This takes several forms in the story. His relationship with his wife, for instance, is by turns affectionate and petulant; the writer quarrels with his wife out of pity for himself and his condition, and later, when they make up, their amiability is similarly shallow. The narrator describes their love affair as a kind of transaction: it was

all part of a regular progression in which she had built herself a new life and he had traded away what remained of his old life.

Now, in the bush, as he is dying in the care of this woman, he appreciates the improbability of this fate.

The italicized flashbacks that the writer experiences, in which he intensely remembers former moments from his life, are another example. These can be understood almost as a cliche—his life is flashing before his eyes! However, his memory of the fight he got into in Constantinople with a soldier over a girl stands out because of its detail. Similarly, his memory of how he had been thinking of an old lover, "the one who left him," and his sense that, while it was his "duty" to write of such things, now he never would, suggests that what is most precious to the writer is this lived experience, even if the "story of his life" makes no logical sense.

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In “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” as elsewhere in Hemingway's work, the ever-presence of death and how we deal with it is a significant theme. The central character of Harry doesn't deal with the ever-presence of death particularly well—but that's because he hasn't dealt with life particularly well, either.

Instead of enjoying it to the full, he's largely wasted it, along with his writing talent. The suggestion here is that if we don't make the most of our lives, then we won't be able to handle death when it inevitably arrives.

Death has been hanging around Harry virtually his whole life in the shape of the tragic deaths of people that he's known. This has made it hard for him to deal with the prospect of his own death, which could arrive at any moment, as well as having a negative impact on his ability to make the most of his life.

On this reading, leading a good life—a rich, fulfilling life full of positive experiences—can be seen as a prelude to having a good death or dying at peace with the world. But because Harry has wasted his life as well as his writing talent, such an ending will escape him.

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The main theme of this story is facing death, but as with much of Hemingway, the story also explores isolation and alienation. Harry is attended by his wife Helen as he dies of gangrene poisoning in Africa, but he does not love her. He thinks, as his mind wanders over his life, of the prostitutes he visited in Constantinople in earlier years to try to alleviate his loneliness. At the end of his life, he hallucinates that Compton has come in a two-seater airplane and that they will go off to seek medical care, leaving Helen behind. In other words, Harry does not really want his wife to join him on his final journey. That Compton and the plane are symbols of death is underscored when the plane, in his reveries, flies towards Kilimanjaro—representing nature—rather than civilization: Harry is not going toward this world to get medical help, but to another world. Of course, there is no plane and no Compton, so Harry is essentially dying alone. Harry also has a sense of failures as a writer as he dies with unwritten stories inside him, feeling his life, as he puts it, has been all about (failed) poetry and rot, what he calls "rotten poetry." The story is bleak, but Harry does face death stoically.

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One way to state the theme of a piece of literature is first to discover the topic of the piece, which in this case is death, and then put that into the form of a question: What does Harry's fate as a failed writer, his gangrenous leg, his dream of ascending to the white snow on the mountain, and the laugh of the hyena ("almost human") suggest about "death"? Perhaps it is something such as this:  In "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," Hemingway suggests that because we are all deeply flawed by our nature of being human, the shadow of death sharpens our desire to aspire to greatness." In any way you formulate your ideas on the theme, be sure you state it as a sentence with a subject, verb, and object, narrowing a "topic" to a universal truth about human experience.

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Death is the main theme of this story. It is a story of imminent death, and as such, images, ideas and character attitudes pervade the entire story. There is an excellent and thorough explanation of this theme along with the more minor theme of artistic creation at the link below.

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What is the thesis of "The Snows of Kilimanjaro"?

As the other answer to this question states, Ernest Hemingway's "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" is a short story and does not have a "thesis." The thesis would be the main point you would argue for in a paper about the short story. The story, however, doesn't argue for an opinion in the same way an analytical paper does. 

Now, the story does have themes, and these are elements that you could conceivably construct a thesis around. One of the most prominent themes in the story is death, as Harry spends the entirety of the narrative ruminating on his imminent (and, it's worth noting, entirely preventable) demise. This theme is largely represented by the looming presence of Mt. Kilimanjaro, a spiritually significant location in the region. Moreover, it's apparent that Harry is about to die with a great deal of disappointment weighing him down (he feels that his talents have been wasted, or that he hasn't lived up to his true potential), and so one of the story's most prominent themes is also regret in conjunction with death. If you're writing an essay on the story, carefully examine how these themes work in the context of the narrative, and then, based on evidence in the text, come up with a main argument, which you'll then summarize in your thesis statement. If you need further assistance, be sure to check out the other great resources regarding this story at enotes.com!  

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What is the thesis of "The Snows of Kilimanjaro"?

As a short story, "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" does not have a thesis; it has a theme, which is its central message. If you were going to write a paper about the story, your paper would need a thesis, that is, a main idea. In a persuasive paper, your thesis would be the point you hope to prove to your reader.

To find the theme of a short story (remembering that there can be more than one), first be sure you understand the plot with its rising action, climax, and resolution. As yourself what the subject of the story is. This is not your theme, because a theme has to be a statement, not a single word; however, identifying the subject is one step on the way to identifying the theme. Now think about what truth the story relates about the subject that it deals with. You can often arrive at this truth by asking how the main character changed in the story or whether he or she learned a lesson. Now you are ready to clarify the theme by formulating a sentence that speaks about people or life in general, not about the story's characters, and delivers a universal truth.

In "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," Harry, a writer, is dying from gangrene while he and his wife are stuck in a remote region of Africa waiting for a plane to rescue them. Harry and Helen argue, and Harry tells his wife he doesn't love her, although Helen loves Harry very much. Flashbacks reveal events from Harry's previous life; although he has had some adventures, he feels he has never fully capitalized on his talent and written the works he was capable of. Vultures and a hyena keep circling the camp, constantly reminding the couple of Harry's impending death. In a surprise double ending, Harry dreams he is rescued in the morning and is flown out of camp, only to head toward Mt. Kilimanjaro, known to the natives as the House of God. In reality, he dies in the middle of the night; Helen wakes up and realizes he has passed. 

Harry does not change or seem to learn anything during the story, except that the reality of his wasted years weighs heavily upon him. Rather than using his last hours to bond with his wife, however, he hurts her with his cruel words and cynical talk. One might expect a person who is staring death in the face to want to use his last moments to make amends and make sure he is remembered fondly by his loved ones. This is not the way Harry responds to the knowledge that death is near.  The vultures and the hyena reinforce the idea that death for such a person is sinister and ugly; the vision of Mt. Kilimanjaro that Harry sees at the end is his wish that things could have been different. Therefore, one theme of the story is that angry, dissatisfied people cannot face death serenely but may try to deal with their own pain and regret by lashing out at others, particularly those who love them.

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What are some themes in "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" by Ernest Hemingway?

A key theme in "The Snows Of Kilimanjaro" is the conflicted and misogynistic ways in which Harry relates to women. It is clear that he has no love for his wife, Helen, and resents her. While Helen cares for Henry and financially supports him, it is clear that he resents this as well. Harry blames his inability to produce the kind of art he wants to on wealth and the society it brings with it, saying that it has softened him up.

The trip to Kilimanjaro was specifically supposed to remedy these problems, but ironically, it ends up killing Henry. He dies complaining that he's full of "rot and poetry." He can see Helen specifically, and women generally, representing softness in this story, which Henry views as detrimental to artistic creation. On the other hand, Henry's attempt to reject women and softness leads to his death, which can be traced both to his decision to take an unnecessarily rugged trip to Kilimanjaro and him neglecting to properly care for the thorn prick that eventually leads to his death.

"The Snows of Kilimanjaro" is very directly about death. Like many Hemingway stories, Hemingway puts a man in close contact with both the natural world and death. Throughout the story, the hyena appears as a recurring image that both represents and feeds off of death. It is closely aligned with rot and gangrene. It is clear that Hemingway sees death as a natural part of the world that can manifest at any time. Henry's response to death is ultimately ambivalent. While he puts up a front of stoicism and acceptance, his internal dialogue suggests deep regret, and his arguments with his wife paint a rather pathetic picture of his last hours. Overall, the story suggests the importance of living a meaningful life. Henry's death is tragic because it is in no way a moment of closure and fulfillment but instead a reflection on things left undone.

Hemingway is clearly interested in exploring the effects of wealth in "The Snows of Kilimanjaro." Helen's wealth is framed as the root of many of Henry's problems as a writer. Their trip to Kilimanjaro—itself dependent on significant wealth—is positioned as an escape from the rich society that is stiffing Henry's art. This suggests a framing in which the rich society stifling Henry's art is too separated from the substance of the world to support good artistic creation. Africa—often positioned (though a colonial lens) as symbolic of the wild—exists as a polar opposite of this.

While the wild is exactly what Henry wants, it proves too much for him. This suggests that the attempt to use wealth to buy an experience of "the real world" or of "the wild" is a failed project from the start. Whether we interpret the problem as being that Henry has gone soft with wealth or that his attempt to reject wealth and the softness that comes with it is actually an unhealthy attitude in the wild, it is clear that Henry overcorrects. He gets his artistic inspiration but no time to use it.

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