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Literature: Ernest Hemingway

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Ernest Hemingway’s background influenced him to write the short story “The
Snows of Kilimanjaro.” One important influence on the story was that Hemingway
had a fear of dying without finishing a work. Hemingway confirmed this fear in
many interviews. Baker, in “The Slopes of Kilimanjaro,” states that
Hemingway could well express the feelings of Harry because they both feared
death in the event that they may have unfinished a work (50). Similarly, in
“The Snows of Kilimanjaro” Harry, the protagonist, is constantly facing
death. In an effort to get his ideas and feelings expressed, Harry resorts to
flashbacks, which to him were “very real moments” (Chaman 111). In addition
to his feelings on mortality, another influence on the story is Hemingway’s
history with women. Hemingway married many times, possibly inciting the bitter
feelings toward the women in his stories. By comparison, Harry is very bitter
towards the woman, his companion on the wild African Safari. He demonstrates
bitterness best in comments like “you bitch, you rich bitch” (Hemingway 9)
and “she shot very well this good, this rich bitch, this kindly caretaker and
destroyer of his talent” (11). Perhaps the most important influence on the
story is that Hemingway had been on many safaris in Africa. In an interview with
Pilmpton, Hemingway states that for “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” he drew on
his “knowledge and experience acquired on the same long hunting trip” and
tried to “convey the feelings felt while on his trip” (qtd. 32). This
background together with a believable plot, convincing characterization, and
important literary devices enables Ernest Hemingway in “The Snows of
Kilimanjaro” to develop the theme that a person should neither waste the gifts
he holds nor lead his life taking advantage of others. To develop this theme,
Hemingway creates a believable plot through an internal conflict and a
determinate ending. Hemingway formulates a believable plot through the internal
conflict in Harry. Harry, an aspiring writer, came to realize in his dying all
that he had not accomplished. He began to blame others for the death that was
awaiting him and for all the things, he never wrote. Harry shows his
disappointment of not being able to write by stating “he would never write the
things that he had saved to write until he knew enough to write them well”
(Hemingway 5). Harry’s first blame for not being successful was his present
wife, whom he married for her money. Harry emphasizes his quest for a better
life and more money in the statement, “Your damned money was my armour. My
Swift and my Armour” (9). He further separates himself from his wife by
implying he did not like doing things with her. Harry established this feeling
with the statement, “the only thing I ever really liked to do with you I
can’t do now” (9). Harry also changed his opinion on dying many times. At
times, he seemed to welcome the thought of ending it all, and at other times he
was bored with the idea of dying. In the end, Harry was afraid of dying and
tried to fend off his death; he tried to “send it away without
speaking”(15). Along with the internal conflict, Hemingway further creates a
believable plot in his story by using a determinate ending. With the reference
to the dead leopard on the mountain, Hemingway foreshadows the ending of the
story from the very beginning. This short preamble indicates someone in the
story will fall short of his or her goals. While dying of gangrene, Harry can
see the vultures that were once circling above now beginning to perch around the
camp sight (3). The next clue that Harry was going to die was the appearance of
the hyena. Whenever the hyena appeared, it was to symbolize the onslaught of
death. When Harry faced the realization of his death, it came “ with a
rush…of a sudden evil-smelling emptiness…that the hyena slipped lightly on
the edge of it” (15). Furthermore, when the death actually occurred it was the
hyena that announced it with a “strange, human, almost crying sound (27). In
addition to creating the theme with a believable plot, Hemingway also develops
the theme of “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” by convincingly characterizing
Harry, the protagonist. Harry was a convincing character because he was
constantly facing his death. From the beginning when the reader finds out he had
gangrene, the story tells the reader that even if his leg was removed, he would
still die. This whole short story is centered on the death of the protagonist,
Harry. He went through many stages throughout the story, at first denial, then
acceptance, and finally fear of death. Besides being convincing because he
behaved consistently, Harry was a convincing character because his love of money
motivated him to lie and even fail at his dream of being a writer. Harry, while
in one of his fits, says to his wife, “if you had not left your own people,
your goddamned Old Westbury, Saratoga, Palm Beach people to take me on---,”
hinting that the higher class from which she came was at blame. Harry had, in
fact caused the downfall of his writing career by “drinking so much that he
blunted the edge of his perceptions, by laziness, by sloth, and by snobbery, by
pride and prejudice, by hook and crook” (11). He had chosen to make a living
other than by the pen- by chasing the money of others. Finally, Harry is
convincing because he is plausible. Harry, like many others when faced with a
problem, was looking for another reason for his destruction and not facing the
truth. The truth is that in all his pursuits for money, he has forgotten his own
dream of being a writer. He is also not unlike others who, when faced with final
death, become frightened and try to escape the “weight on his chest.”
Perhaps the most important way Hemingway develops the theme of this story is
that he uses foreshadowing and symbolism. Hemingway uses symbols, including the
memories that Harry recalls and the different animals to enforce the theme of
“The Snows of Kilimanjaro.” Perhaps the most obvious occurrence of symbols
is that of the different animals. The different types of animals represent both
the type of person Harry wishes to be, and the type of person he actually is.
First is the leopard, it represents all that he has not accomplished. The
leopard, being the fastest land animal has mastered his surroundings and
accomplished greatness. Harry’s quest for excellence in his writing is shown
throughout the story, this is directly correrlery to the great skill and
dominance of the leopard of his kingdom. Harry strives to be like the leopard
and accomplish greatness, but because of his blaming of others, he falls short.
He is more comparable to that of the hyena. The hyena is a scavenging animal,
dirty and sneaky. Harry is like the hyena in that he scavenges off the women in
his life. He does not care about them; he only cares about what they might
supply him with. In the story, the woman goes off to “kill a piece of meat”
(10). Secondly, Hemingway also uses foreshadowing to help develop the theme. The
first thing we read about it the dead leopard, leading the reader to think of
death. Then as the story progresses the reader reads of the “huge, filthy
birds,” and how they are slowly progressing closer and closer just like the
death approaching Harry. After analyzing how the author’s background, the
plot, the characterization, and the literary devices contribute to the
development of the theme “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” one understands why
this story rates high on the literary scale of value. One reason that this story
rates high is that it fully achieves its purpose. The story achieves its purpose
by the use of different writing skills and techniques. Hemingway uses not only
his great analytical mind, bus draws upon his own experiences in life. His
travels to Africa, and his troubled past with women, are both shown to detail in
this writing. Hemingway then develops his theme by using the internal conflicts
of the characters, and through the development of conflict introduces a
believable plot. The most important way he develops the theme is by using
symbolism. From the start, Hemingway is using symbols, and in every turning
point, from the vultures introducing the death to the hyena bringing it in the
end the story uses symbols. His use of symbolism is a contribution to the
characters, and the overall readability of the story. Secondly, another reason
this story rates high is that it has a significant purpose. Hemingway in writing
"The Snows of Kilimanjaro" fulfils the purpose of entertaining, and
entertainment with a deaper side it makes the reader think about life. He not
only keeps the reader reading, but makes the reader think why or what made the
character do this. This background together with a believable plot, convincing
characterization, and important literary devices enables Ernest Hemingway in
“The Snows of Kilimanjaro” to develop the theme that a person should neither
waste the gifts he holds nor lead his life taking advantage of others. Annotated
Bibliography Baker, Carlos. “The Slopes of Kilimanjaro” Ernest Hemingway A
Life Story. New York: Scribner’s, 1969. Baker discusses Hemingway’s
determination to produce as much quality work as possible. Hemingway after
suffering from insomnia and wild mood swings decides to write less, but more
quality. Hemingway also had a fear of dying without finishing a work, and could
well express the feelings of Harry in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.” Nahal,
Chaman. “The Short Stories” The Narrative Pattern in Ernest Hemingway’s
Fiction. Madison: Fairleigh, 1971. 80-119. Chaman points out that in “The
Snows of Kilimanjaro” the different uses of writing style. Harry the dying
hunter has flashbacks describing exciting events that have happened to him in
his past adventures. Chaman goes on to point out that although these seem like
flashbacks to the reader, they are “very real moments” to Harry. Plimpton,
George. “An Interview with Ernest Hemingway” Hemingway and His Critics. Ed.
Carlos Baker. New York: Hill, 1961. This interview, conducted by Pilmpton with
Hemingway, discusses some Hemingway’s influences on his writings. Hemingway
states that in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” that he was drawing on his
knowledge and memory of his last hunting trip to Africa, and trying to convey
the feelings felt while on his trips. It is evident in this interview that
Hemingway is extremely dedicated in trying to make his writings as enjoyable and
meaning as possible. Shuman, R. Baird. “Ernest Hemingway.” Magill’s Survey
of American Literature. Ed. Frank N. Magill. Vol. 3. New York: Marshall, 1991.
Baird discusses the life of Hemingway, beginning with his birthplace and ending
with the taking of his own life. Hemingway was well versed in the finer things
in life with his mothers teachings but much preferred hunting and more masculine
activities with his father. Another important influence in his writings is his
experiences on great expeditions to Africa. Watts, Emily S. “Iconography...”
Ernest Hemingway and the Arts. Chicago: Illinois P, 1971. 51-95. Watts explains
that Hemingway does not write much on the topic of suicide. One might think this
would be a large subject in his stories, but he mentions suicide only briefly in
one story. Although Harry in The Snows of Kilimanjaro does die, he has little
choice in the manner.
Bibliography
Baker, Carlos. “The Slopes of Kilimanjaro.” Ernest Hemingway A Life
Story. New York: Scribner’s, 1969. Hemingway, Ernest. “The Snows of
Kilimanjaro.” The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories. New York:
Scribner’s, 1970. Nahal, Chaman. “The Short Stories.” The Narrative
Pattern in Ernest Hemingway’s Fiction. Madison: Fairleigh, 1971. Plimpton,
George. “An Interview with Ernest Hemingway.” Hemingway and His Critics. Ed.
Carlos Baker. New York: Hill, 1961. Shuman, R. Baird. “Ernest Hemingway.”
Magill’s Survey of American Literature. Ed. Frank N. Magill. Vol. 3. New York:
Marshall, 1991. Watts, Emily S. “Iconography and technical expression: the
agony of man.” Ernest Hemingway and the Arts. Chicago: Illinois P, 1971.
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