The Snows of Kilimanjaro


The Snows of Kilimanjaro was first published in 1936. The story is not in the public domain and cannot be presented. Here is a summary presented for your convenience

The main character is a man named Harry. He has gone to Africa on safari where he is punctured by a thorn and develops an infection. As the infection progresses toward a slow death, he has time for introspection; time to think about his life, his work and the people in it.

Though he is a writer, he has been reluctant to write, and it seems that he believes some of the finer things that he has seen and realized in his life will remain un-captured and unwritten. In the following excerpt (quoted under the fair-use doctrine), Harry expresses some of the regret while thinking about the woman he loves now (Helen) and the women that he has loved in his life:

He remembered the good times with them all, and the quarrels. They always picked the finest places to have the quarrels. And why had they always quarrelled when he was feeling best? He had never written any of that because, at first, he never wanted to hurt any one and then it seemed as though there was enough to write without it. But he had always thought that he would write it finally. There was so much to write. He had seen the world change; not just the events; although he had seen many of them and had watched the people, but he had seen the subtler change and he could remember how the people were at different times. He had been in it and he had watched it and it was his duty to write of it; but now he never would.

He argues with Helen, attempting to blame her for several of his acute short-comings; living decadently and drifting away from genuine people to live comfortably among the rich, who were not worth writing about:

But if he lived he would never write about her, he knew that now. Nor about any of them. The rich were dull and they drank too much, or they played too much backgammon. They were dull and they were repetitious. He remembered poor Julian and his romantic awe of them and how he had started a story once that began, "The very rich are different from you and me." And how some one had said to Julian, Yes, they have more money. But that was not humorous to Julian. He thought they were a special glamourous race and when he found they weren't it wrecked him just as much as any other thing that wrecked him.

As he approaches death, he seems to lapse into a dream state where he imagines that a plane is coming to take him to the top of Kilimanjaro. He engages the pilot, Compton, in some playful banter and boards the plane. He realizes that the plane has come to take him to the mountain and the story seems to mark his death with that realization, "Just then the hyena stopped whimpering in the night and started to make a strange, human, almost crying sound." Helen awakens to find that he has passed away.

This story has very strong auto-biographical overtones for Hemingway. The parallels to his life in 1936 are unmistakeable. And they seem to persist into his future as well. When awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954, he was injured and unable to attend the ceremony. He sent a letter which was read aloud at the event. A quick examination of that speech reveals that some of the same thoughts and themes exposed in The Snows of Kilimanjaro still haunted him in 1954 and were revealed again in his "Banquet Speech" which comments on the introspective loneliness of a writer's life.


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