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Reviewing The Snows Of Kilimanjaro Films English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1411 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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“The Snows of Kilimanjaro” begins with a dialogue between Harry and his wife Helen, who are stranded on the hot plains of Africa, within the sight of the snow capped Mount Kilimanjaro. Harry develops a gangrenous leg wound from a thorn puncture, and lies on the ground waiting for his slow death. Helen is doing all she can to make Harry comfortable and convince him that they will be rescued and he will survive, but he seems to enjoy the dark humor of the vultures hovering above him waiting for him to die. Harry also reveals his resentment towards Helen for her money and rich upbringing.

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Faced with death, Harry looks back on his life, bitterly reflects his once promising writing career, and regrets many of the choices he made. He recalls his life, packed with experiences he once planned to translate into writing: from the purity of skiing in the Austrian Alps; to the horror of warfare during World War I. He realizes that he has sacrificed his talent for material pleasures offered by Helen, on whom he is financially dependant. He had put away the most important parts of his life, waiting for another time to put the emotions and the thoughts on paper, and now it is too late. Filled with rage and self disgust, he quarrels with Helen, blaming her for his living decadently and his failure to write of what really matters to him.

As night falls and a hyena flits past the camp, Harry sense the approach of death. He feels a sudden sensation of weight on his chest, but as he is carried to his tent his discomfort is abruptly relieved. The following morning, he sees his friend and a pilot, Compton, coming to take him to the city and to the doctor. Harry gets in the plane and Compton, instead of taking him to the city, flies right by the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro and Harry “new that there was where he was going.?” At this moment, the story abruptly cuts to the sound of Helen’s sobs as she discovers Harry’s corpse and it is revealed that the “plane trip” was, in fact, a dream and the final flight of Harry’s imagination.

Hemingway used roman type for the present event, Harry’s last few hours in Africa before his death, and italics for the flashbacks that take place in Harry’s mind. The story oscillates between roman and italic type. In the sections in roman type, Harry converses with his wife about the events of the immediate present and skims over the details of the past. In the italicized flashbacks, Harry is seen as he was in his earlier life, especially in Paris, where he lived in the bohemian poverty and devoted his energies to writing. But he consistently regrets leaving that behind. He gave up, in a sense, and began spending time drinking, traveling, hunting, and chasing rich women. He became “what he despised.” The imagined plane ride is told in roman type, giving the reader momentary pause before discovering that it is not real, but only in Harry’s mind as he faces his final living moment.

“The Snows of Kilimanjaro” is filled with reoccurring images and symbols of death and a pervading sense of death’s presence. The story begins with a description of death – “it’s painless,” Harry says in the first line, leading towards his ultimate consequence, and ends with the ironic comparison of the loud beating heart of a woman and the stillness of Harry’s body after he dies. Death is symbolically figured as the pristine whiteness of the summit mount Kilimanjaro, the hovering of vultures above him, and the creeping, dirty hyena that lurks outside of Harry’s tent.

One large method Hemingway used to bring death into the story was through symbolism. The white mysterious mountain of Kilimanjaro is one of the main symbols of the story. The natives call the mountain “The House of God” and it becomes the final resting place of Harry as he rots away with his gangrene. In the epigraph at the beginning of the story, the reader is told the legend of the leopard carcass found at the top of Kilimanjaro. The frozen leopard was a symbol of entrance to heaven, so it makes sense that Harry would spend his final moments on earth passing judgment on himself.

The hyena that hovers by Harry’s tent throughout the story is another symbol of death. Hyenas are traditionally symbolized to represent death since they feed on the dead bodies of animals and occasionally on people. Whenever hyenas appear in The Snows of Kilimanjaro, they are associated with Harry’s death. When Harry realizes that his death is eminent, it comes “with a rush…of a sudden evil smelling emptiness…that the hyena slipped lightly on the edge of”, and, when the death actually occurs, it is the hyena that declares it with “a strange, human, almost crying sound”

Harry’s attitude toward his death changes throughout the story. Initially, he puts on a brave and almost cavalier front, telling his wife that he does not care about is death and knows that it is inevitable. But in the italicized sections of the story, Harry’s bravado disappears, and he slips into the regret of a man who knows he is dying but who rues the fact that he has not accomplished what he has wanted to in his life. The gangrenous rot that is taking his leg metamorphoses, in his mind, into the poetry that he never wrote: “I’m full of poetry now. Rot and poetry. Rotten poetry.”

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But when death arrives it is not at all rotten, lingering, or painful. Rather, it is transcendent. Harry’s mind wanders and he hallucinates that his friend Compton arrives in an airplane to take Harry off to get medical assistance. As the plane takes off, it passes by the pure white summit of Kilimanjaro. As Harry passes this image, the reader is reminded of the epigraph of the story, in which Hemingway says that “close to the western summit there is the dried and frozen carcass of a leopard. No one has explained what the leopard was seeing at that altitude.” Harry seems to have found something though: a release from his earthly problems.

Harry’s failure to achieve the artistic success he sought in his life is another main theme of the story. Harry had been a promising young writer who fell in with the rich crowd because he told himself he wanted to write about them. “he had had his life and it was over and then he went living it again with different people and more money,” the narrator states. However, he was seduced by their luxuries and allowed them to distract him from his true calling. “Each day of not writing,” the narrator continues, “of comfort, of being that which he despised, dulled his ability and softened his will to work so that, finally, he did no work at all.” To rid himself of the seduction of the luxuries he owned, he took his wife on a safari “with the minimum of comfort” so that “in some way he could work the far off his soul the way a fighter went into the mountains to work and train in order to burn it out of his body.”

In this aspect, Harry becomes a very close representation of Hemingway himself. It reflects several of Hemingway’s own personal concerns during the 1930s regarding his writing career and life. Hemingway once remarked in Green Hills that “politics, women, drink, money, and ambition” are the death of American writers. His fear of succumbing to the pleasures of money and women are evident in this story. In describing Harry’s death, Hemingway confronted many of the demons that haunted him: ignorant audiences, alcohol, war, and the unfulfilled life of a talented writer.

Furthermore, Carlos Baker reveals in his book Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story the events in the author’s life that determined him to write this fiction. The idea for The Snows of Kilimanjaro began in 1934 in New York when a wealthy woman offered “to stake” Hemingway to a safari in Africa. At the time he had refused, but since then always pondered what could have happened had he agreed to go. Baker also adds: “The dying writer in the story as an image of himself as he might have seen. Might have been, that is, if the temptation to lead the aimless life of the very rich had overcome his integrity as an artist” (289).


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