Ernest Hemingway and the Snows of Kilimanjaro

Ernest Hemingway rode his way into the world via white elephant in 1899. Norton reveals that his birthplace was Oak Park, Illinois and that he lived with five other siblings.  After working for the Kansas City Star newspaper company, he decided to join the fury of World War I as an ambulance driver. When he returned to America, he was revered for the fact that he had saved someone’s life, a virtual war hero. After the war, he traveled to different parts of the globe with his wife, Hadley Richardson, including Paris, where he was to meet literary artists who would inspire him in the craft. Turns out Mr. Fitzgerald was one of his mentors. Though successful as a writer, he suffered from depression in his late years, tragically killing himself in 1961 due to a self-inflicted gun shot wound.

As for the books Hemingway is remembered by, they include The Sun Also Rises (1926), For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940), A Farewell to Arms (1929), and The Old Man and the Sea (1952). The old man who went to sea fished out a Nobel Prize as well as a Pulitzer Prize for Hemingway. Ernest is often praised for his crisp and concise dialogue between characters, making it easy for readers to comprehend. However, one must not be content with surface dialogue. Hemingway is connected with the literary theory of minimalism; minimalists try to state things as simply as possible (and as short as they can) but somehow make the reader guess as to what the characters imply. In other words, the reader must think about the simple statements the author makes and glean meaning from them on their own.    This link gave me some more info on Hemingway, about how some of the themes he likes to delve into include the disillusionment of post WW1 society (sounds just like T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land”), the relationships between men and women, the ideal of courage and honesty in a dishonest and cowardly world, and the loss of faith one may experience due to turmoil. And Hemingway did wrestle with one author: William Faulkner. Apparently, they both sent letters to each other, talking about how each was a terrible writer. If you would like to learn more, here’s a link to a lecture about the letters:

Now to the short story “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.”  This story was okay for me; my favorite part occurs at the end, when Hemingway puts the reader into a sort of fantasy land with Harry traveling to Kilimanjaro (would this symbolize a journey to the afterlife?). Yet Hemingway turns the reader’s attention to the woman waking to find Harry dead on the ground, her heart beating fast with fear. The world Harry goes to is peaceful, while his wife is still trapped in a world of pain and suspense? What do you think?

I definitely can glean connections to other works we’ve read. First, there is the quote on page 1080 about how the rich drink too much and play too much backgammon. Seems like this links with “Babylon Revisited,” about how the rich can squander their lives through excess of alcohol and money.  There are also sexual innuendoes between Harry and his wife, about how Harry wants to destroy his wife in bed (Devin’s inner sexuality growls). This can complement Stanley’s sexual advances in A Streetcar named Desire. Like Stanley, Harry exemplifies the typical male persona of the 20th century: tough and arrogant. The passages in italics remind me of the one in Hughes’s poem “Mulatto.” Hemingway is following in the footsteps of modernists to portray a character’s thought processes through italics. The reader is entering into the character’s inner psychology.

One thesis could center on the fact that Hemingway’s life as a writer can compare to Harry’s (Hemingway and Harry both struggle with the sense that they did not accomplish everything they wished as writers). This would be considered a form of biographical criticism, since the writer is comparing the author’s life to one of their characters. One quote that could help support this thesis is the following: “He has sold vitality, in one form or another, all his life and when your affections are not too involved…No, he would not write that, although it was well worth writing” (1073).

Here are some closing questions:

  1. What is Hemingway’s point in providing the reader with Harry’s thoughts of the past? How does he narrate the story?
  2. Does Hemingway view death positively or negatively, in terms of this story?
  3. What do you think of Harry’s relationship with his wife?
  4. What connections do you see between Harry’s life and Hemingway’s?