The Snows of Kilimanjaro by Ernest Hemingway
In 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 at the beginning 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.