The Snows of Kilimanjaro by Ernest Hemingway

The Snows of Kilimanjaro - Ernest HemingwayIn The Snows of Kilimanjaro by Ernest Hemingway we have the theme of regret, conflict, redemption, acceptance and death. Taken from his collection of the same name the story is narrated in the third person and is divided into six present time sections with five flashbacks (or interior monologues). The use of flashbacks is important because it is through them that the reader realises that the main protagonist, Harry, has lived a very full life even though he regrets never having written of the things that he has experienced. What is also interesting about the story is the tone of the story. For the main the story takes on a regretful tone but in the final passage where Harry believes he is flying over Kilimanjaro there is a sense of hope or a calmness that comes over Harry (an acceptance or contentment). Hemingway also uses the animals in the story as foreshadowing devices to highlight to the reader Harry’s impending death. The first instance of the use of foreshadowing is in the epigraph of the story when the reader is told that ‘Close to the western summit there is the dried and frozen carcass of a leopard,’ Hemingway using the leopard’s skeleton as symbolism for death. The leopard is also important for another reason as Hemingway may be highlighting that like the leopard, Harry never reached the summit with his own writing. Despite having lived a full life, he has never written of any of his experiences.

Animals are again used as a foreshadowing device in the story when the vultures are sitting around the camp; again they are being used as symbolism to highlight to the reader Harry’s impending death. Previously they had been flying around the camp, circling Harry but now they sense that Harry is near his death and are comfortable sitting around the camp, closer to Harry. Also later Hemingway again uses animals as a foreshadowing device, this time with the hyenas as they make their way closer to the camp, again like the vultures they sense Harry’s impending death.

It is while Harry is waiting to die that he looks at his life again. Hemingway through the use of the flashbacks gives the reader some insight into Harry’s life. However more importantly the flashbacks highlight to the reader the incidents that occurred in Harry’s life that he could have written about though never did. Even though the material was there, Harry chose never to write about them. The flashbacks also highlight to the reader the internal conflict that Harry is suffering, how he feels he has wasted his life by not writing about what has happened.

Each flashback has a theme. In the first flashback the theme is loss. The loss of life from the war (WWI) and Herr Lent losing money while playing cards. Central in the first flashback is snow. This is important because Harry is associating the snow with happy times (as he also does at the end of the story). He remembers skiing and how much fun he had with Hans. In the second flashback there is a theme of loneliness and escapism. Harry remembers being alone in Constantinople after quarrelling with a woman in Paris. He remembers writing her a letter and asking her to write to him in his office. He also remembers the fight with the British soldier over an Armenian woman and sleeping with her later (attempt to escape due to loneliness).

In the third flashback there is a theme of destruction and happiness. Harry can remember his grandfather’s log house burning down (destruction) and asking his grandfather could he play with his burnt guns. Despite the log house being rebuilt things were never the same, his grandfather never bought any new guns. The old guns lay out side on the ‘heap of ashes and no one ever touched them.’ Harry also remembers renting a trout stream in the Black Forest for fishing. He remembers the proprietor of the Hotel in Triberg killing himself (destruction again) because he hadn’t got enough money to keep the hotel going. His memory then shifts to when he was a young man living in Paris. Despite the poverty it was one of the more productive times in Harry’s life and he recalls himself being happy. It is also at this time that Harry was realising his potential. In the fourth flashback we have the theme of misguided loyalty. Harry remembers the young chore boy being arrested in town for killing the old man, even though he was trying to protect the ranch owner’s property. He remembers the boy turning to him and crying because he was being arrested.

The final flashback is probably the most important because it is the only flashback that Harry doesn’t mention he failed to write about what happened. Another reason it is important is because it is through the final flashback that the reader senses that Harry can still triumph even though he is facing death. The act of helping someone else, by giving Williamson his last morphine pill, in some ways redeems Harry. Another example of Harry redeeming himself, again despite dying, is his intention to write (mental writing of flashbacks). Harry also redeems himself when he decides not to tell Helen that he never loved her, in essence he is thinking about someone else, just like he did with Williamson.

It is this redemption (or Harry’s belief that he is worthy of going to Heaven) that facilitates his ascension to Kilimanjaro (symbolism again for Heaven). For Harry the journey is a reality, he believes that he is in the plane with Compton and that he is flying over the summit of Kilimanjaro. Hemingway also uses symbolism to highlight Harry’s ascension. First when Harry is lifted off his cot and onto the plane and secondly when the plane takes off (rises). In the end, Harry believes that he has gone (or is going) to heaven (in some ways achieving immortality, just like the frozen leopard in the epigraph) despite the reality being that he has died on the plains of Africa.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "The Snows of Kilimanjaro by Ernest Hemingway." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 3 Jan. 2014. Web.

46 comments

  • OK what a lovely story. I want more explanation on how Ernest achieved to analyse critically with a point of view. How Harry’s past seemed so full of promises.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Debora. It’s been a really long time since I’ve read the story but it is possible that by using the flashbacks in the story that Hemingway is highlighting to the reader the lost opportunities that Harry never took advantage of (or used to fulfill his potential). However there is a redemptive quality in the final flashback when rather than thinking about himself, Harry thinks of others.

      Hope that helps you a little. As I said its been a very long time since I read the story and I may need to read it again to fully expand or explore further your comment.

  • I want to know what’s the conflict on which the plot turns?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Young. I’m not sure if I’m right but perhaps the moment in the final flashback in whereby Harry helps someone else (morphine pill) is a pivotal moment in the story. Things change for him after the final flashback (or the plot turns if you like). His regrets about having lived his life (and not written about all the things that had happened him in life) are gone. He no longer feels conflicted (internally) and believes that he is going to heaven. He has found peace.

      Also Harry decides against telling Helen he doesn’t love her. Which again suggests that Harry is thinking of someone else. He disregards his own discomfort (or conflict) in the interest of another human being. Whereas previously he had only thought about himself.

      • Thz for ur reply…It’s really helpful for my assignment. One more thing I want to know is that “is that plot plausible? What role, if any do chance and coincidence play? Thanks again… ^ ^

        • Dermot (Post Author)

          Some readers will consider the plot to be far fetched and not plausible considering that Harry may possibly be delusional at the end of the story (particularly considering that he thinks he is on his way to Heaven). However for Harry what is happening is very real. The sense of relief he feels at the end of the story is euphoric. He feels as though he has cleansed himself and let go of his past. Physically Harry has not moved yet mentally, emotionally and spiritually he has reached a place that he considers to be Heaven. He has freed himself of the shackles that have held him back. Which some critics might suggest is symbolically similar to a person finding Heaven or inner peace.

          With regard to chance and coincidence playing a part in the story. I’m not sure. Harry’s mind is playing tricks on him though again we as readers have to remember that he is dying and the flashbacks that Harry has are all relevant to him. They mean something to him and when he puts them all together he reaches a destination (Heaven). In many ways he is looking back on incidents of discomfort in his life. Trying to find an internal acceptance for events that have caused him conflict. He is seeking peace as many who are dying may do. So I would be unsure as to how chance and coincidence would play a part in the story.

  • It’s really effective help for me…thanks a million…for ur reply…

  • Could you kindly explain to me about the language, literary style, and devices that the author used in this story?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Hemingway appears to be using metaphors and figurative language in the story. While the sentence structure used could be described as being short and declarative. Though the sentences do get longer when the narrator is describing Harry’s impressions of a scene or his moments of introspection. As for literary devices employed by Hemingway. Throughout the story he uses flashbacks which not only give the reader an insight into how Harry is thinking (and feeling) but the reader also learns about what Harry’s experiences in life have been. Each flashback is also printed in italic. The advantage of which is that the reader is able to move (with ease) from the plains where Harry is physically located to inside his head. To again see how he is thinking.

  • Could I know your evaluation on this short story?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Hi Young. I find this one of Hemingway’s more difficult stories to understand. By using the flashbacks to go back into Harry’s past it can be hard to understand the significance of each flashback and why each memory is so important to Harry. Though Hemingway does appear to be consistent and the reader does become aware of the sense of disappointment that has existed in Harry’s life (through each flashback). The fact that Harry believes he is going to Heaven. I thought that was important because there is a sense that he has redeemed himself (or at least Harry feels like he has redeemed himself). There is also a sense that Harry has accepted his past or let go of it. Though as readers we are also aware that he is delusional at the end of the story believing he is going to Heaven.

  • Thanks a million…

  • Plz can u explain the setting of this story? I am confused!

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Ohnmar. The setting can be confusing. The story is set on the plains of Africa. That’s the physical location of the story. Harry is there with his wife Helen. However as Harry is recovering from a gangrenous leg he has several flashbacks which take him through past incidents (and places) in his life. All of the flashbacks are in Harry’s head. At no stage does he leave his physical location on the plains.

  • Thanks for your kind explanation!!!

  • Could you explain to me the moral lesson of the story?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Adriana. It is difficult to say for certain as to what the moral lesson of the story may be as each individual reader may interpret the story differently. For me the moral lesson is to be helpful to others (and not hurt them) and to be true to yourself. Harry has regrets during some of his flashbacks (when he didn’t help the boy or stand up for him). He still feels guilty about it. While it is noticeable that by giving away his last morphine pill and by not telling Helen he never loved her, there is a redemptive element (he hasn’t deliberately hurt someone). Harry also has never been true to himself and regrets having never written anything about his life and it is only in the last redemptive flashback that he mentally writes of his experiences. It is only then is he being true to himself as a writer.

  • Thank you very much Dermot. Your comments are full of perspicacity.

  • What are the things in the story that have continued to puzzle or dazzle readers of the story. Thank you.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Hill. There are two things that stand out for me in the story. The first being that Harry redeems himself at the end of the story and doesn’t tell Helen that he never loved her. Previously in the story (through the flashbacks) Harry had mainly thought only about himself. As to why he has a sudden change of heart when it comes to Helen isn’t clearly stated but it does show a redemptive quality within Harry. Another thing which confuses some readers is the fact that many believe Harry, rather than dying on the plains, manages to make it on the plane and is actually flying over Kilimanjaro. When the reality is that he has passed away on the plains.

  • With clear illustrations, what are the aspects that continue to swamp mankind that Ernest Hermingway brings to the fore in the Snows of Kilimanjaro.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Anny. One thing that stands out for me in the story is the fact that Harry (or mankind) isn’t true to themselves. Harry throughout his life has never written about the things he should have and it is only on his death that he becomes aware of this. It is possible that Hemingway is suggesting that Harry (or mankind) needs to be true to themselves in order to live a fulfilling life.

  • How does Harry come to terms with death?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Linus. I think that Harry comes to accept the fact that he is dying when he believes he is flying towards Heaven. Though the reader is aware that Harry has died on the plains the flight is very real to Harry. It is as if he has redeemed himself through his final flashback and as such I feel that Harry has accepted death. It is through redemption that Harry finds acceptance (of death).

      • I agree with you that Harry accepted death in the last flashback, but what makes him accept death? Just because of the redeeming qualities of the last flashback and not what happened in the others?

        • Dermot (Post Author)

          The final flashback is pivotal or life changing as there is a sense that Harry has realised that the path to redemption is through helping others and by being kind to them. Something Harry wasn’t necessarily doing in any of the other flashbacks. That being said each flashback is important as it is a step towards redemption (and acceptance). Harry becomes aware of his short comings in the final flashback but he needed to go through each flashback to reach a point of acceptance. Harry needed to know what he had done wrong before he could accept that he had been wrong.

  • Can you please explain the last flashback and how it affected him?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Luna. As I mention in the post the last flashback is probably the most important as there is a sense of redemption for Harry. He has helped somebody whereas in the previous flashbacks Harry himself was the main focus. Also it is the only flashback in whereby Harry doesn’t mention he failed to write about what happened. Which suggests hope for Harry.

      • Thank you so much and one more thing. What role does the landscape play in this story ?

        • Dermot (Post Author)

          The narrator tells the reader that Africa was were Harry had been the happiest in the good time of his life. Also Hemingway uses snow in the first flashback to highlight again a time when Harry was happy (skiing with Hans). It might also be important that the barren landscape that surrounds Harry as he is dying is populated with vultures who are waiting for Harry to die. Hemingway possibly relating the barren landscape to death.

  • Hello! I read the comments, and I wanted to follow up with Luna’s question: Which one do you think could be your favourite flashback and how that flashback affected him?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Amelia. The last flashback would be my favourite as it has a redemptive quality. Also Harry though he is unaware he is dying will die happy because of the final flashback. He has redeemed himself.

  • Can you please help me analyze and explain this paragraph. You understand the story so well and I really need help :

    “You kept from thinking and it was all marvellous. You were equipped with good insides so that you did not go to pieces that way, the way most of them had, and you made an attitude that you cared nothing for the work you used to do, now that you could no longer do it. But, in yourself, you said that you would write about these people; about the very rich; that you were really not of them but a spy in their country; that you would leave it and write of it and for once it would be written by some one who knew what he was writing of. But he would never do it, because each day of not writing, 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. The people he knew now were all much more comfortable when he did not work. Africa was where he had been happiest in the good time of his life, so he had come out here to start again. They had made this safari with the minimum of comfort. There was no hardship; but there was no luxury and he had thought that he could get back into training that way. That in some way he could work the fat off his soul the way a fighter went into the mountains to work and train in order to burn it out of his body.”

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Brooke. Hemingway may be suggesting that Harry had the ability to detach himself from his circumstances (good insides) whereas others fell to pieces. Hemingway also appears to be highlighting what Harry could have done rather than detach himself from his environment. What he could have written when he had the opportunity but due to his lifestyle he chose not to. Harry’s reason for going on the safari also appears to be so that he can write again. His life was better in Africa and also simpler. Leaving him time to focus on his writing. The last line suggests that Harry has everything he needs to start writing again and it is just a matter of him actually doing it.

  • Can your explain the meaning of this sentence please: “Those were the same Austrians they killed then that he skied with later.”

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Meredith. I’m really not sure. I suspect that Harry is confused because the next line after the sentence you quote is ‘No not the same.’ As far as I can figure out the Austrians are the same people who stayed in the woodcutter’s house for a year with Harry. They may have fought on different sides during the war and Harry may be thinking that he killed Austrians similar to those who spent a year with him in the woodcutter’s house.

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